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Hospital harangues Highmark over false ads

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center takes insurer to task, files motion to dismiss false advertising lawsuit

People living in and around Pittsburgh are likely overjoyed at the prospect of their health care possibly being affected by a particularly vitriolic feud between their local hospital and insurance company.

Health provider Highmark and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) are currently slinging arrows after the insurer filed suit against the medical center in July over an alleged breach of contract and false advertising campaign.

Highmark claims that UPMC took a contract dispute between the two parties to the next level, and broadcast its displeasure to the public.

“ … UPMC has launched an aggressive, multi-faceted misinformation campaign targeted at employers and consumers who subscribe to Highmark health plans, to scare Highmark members into believing that they did or will shortly lose their relationships with their current UPMC doctors, and therefore must switch insurance carriers immediately,” Highmark wrote in a release on July 13. Highmark also alleges that UPMC’s attack constitutes false and misleading advertising under the federal Lanham Act.

The insurer went on to note that the information clearly wasn’t true, and violated a non-solicitation clause in their agreement with the hospitals.

Yesterday, UPMC returned fire, filing a motion to dismiss the “meritless” lawsuit in its entirety, as well as a separate opposition to Highmark’s motion to enjoin the hospital’s communications regarding the issues.

“The public has the right to know now how the expiration of the contracts between UPMC and Highmark will affect them and the relationships with their UPMC physicians and UPMC hospitals,” UPMC said in a statement. “Highmark should not be able to gag UPMC, leaving Highmark as the lone public voice on end-of-contract issues—particularly when Highmark’s own communications are the ones misleading patients and the public. UPMC’s public communications have been accurate, ethically and socially responsible, and consistent with the provisions of the contracts.”

UPMC says it won’t renew the contract, which expires in July 2012, because of Highmark’s recent acquisition of the West Penn Allegheny Health System—a direct competitor of UPMC. As a result, UPMC announced that it has entered into enhanced and expanded contracts with Aetna, CIGNA, HealthAmerica and United Healthcare to “confront the decades-old monopoly Highmark has had in the local health insurance market.”

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