Our View: UPMC’s push across Pa. bears watching

Commonwealth Health, parent of Wilkes Barre General Hospital, has signed a contract that provides in-network access to UPMC Health Plan members at its six hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania and affiliated provider networks. - Times Leader file

File it under interesting developments.

Commonwealth Health on Tuesday announced that it has signed a contract that provides in-network access to UPMC Health Plan members at its six hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania and affiliated provider networks.

No more, no less.

“This new agreement solely relates to expanding access to care for individuals who have UPMC Health insurance plans. That has been our only focus throughout negotiations,” Commonwealth Health spokeswoman Renita Fennick said Tuesday when asked if the deal was a prelude to a sale.

Asked and answered.

The question has been on many minds, however, for many months, at least. It certainly came up among readers commenting on an early version of the story posted to our website on Tuesday.

The interesting part from a bigger perspective is the march of Pittsburgh-based UPMC Health Plan and its parent, the UPMC medical system, across Pennsylvania.

Our News Editor, Roger DuPuis, who wrote the story, previously covered health care for a business publication in Harrisburg. That included the purchase of a major Harrisburg-based hospital system by UPMC, giving the Western Pennsylvania system a significant foothold in a growing, high-profile market that included the state capital and some of its wealthiest suburbs, as well as parts of York and Lancaster counties, which are significant population centers in their own right.

As DuPuis’ story also noted, UPMC insurance products were available in 36 Pennsylvania counties in 2017, increased to 51 counties in 2018 and are expected to have some presence in all 67 of the state’s counties by 2019.

So whether or not the UPMC health system is looking to become a significant health care operator in the region, their insurance subsidiary just became an important player in this market.

Simply from a numbers standpoint, that seems likely to be a win-win for Commonwealth Health and for UPMC’s insurance operations: UPMC and its 3.4 million members gain access to Commonwealth’s hospitals and providers, and Commonwealth gains a large pool of new potential customers.

But this region is anything but a blank slate when it comes to insurance providers.

Commonwealth officials stressed that their organization continues to maintain its status as a preferred provider for Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield plans and has contracts with other major insurers in the area, including Aetna, Cigna, Geisinger Health Plan and UnitedHealthcare.

We are not taking any position with respect to any of the hospitals or insurance providers involved.

What we are saying is that this move brings more choice to health care consumers, which on the face of things is positive for patients.

What we are also saying is that anyone who has a vested interest in the region’s healthcare landscape should be watching developments very closely, if they aren’t already.

We certainly are.

— Times Leader

Commonwealth Health, parent of Wilkes Barre General Hospital, has signed a contract that provides in-network access to UPMC Health Plan members at its six hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania and affiliated provider networks.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_TTL081414generalhospital.jpgCommonwealth Health, parent of Wilkes Barre General Hospital, has signed a contract that provides in-network access to UPMC Health Plan members at its six hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania and affiliated provider networks. Times Leader file