Monday, June 17, 2013

Questions? What Questions?: The UPMC-ARHS Merger Continues

Thursday, I joined a group of nurses and concerned community members to deliver petitions to the Altoona Regional Hospital.  As I mentioned, the delivery was covered by both WTAJ and the Altoona Mirror.  The Mirror article didn't come out until the next day and when it did I was interested to find out what Dave Cuzzolina, Director of Marketing and Communications, really thought of we happy few.

The reaction seemed mixed.  Either we were bent on misleading the public through scare tactics...

"They [opponents of the deal] continue to try to scare people with this," he said.

Or we're essentially well-meaning idiots...

"These are sincere people who are concerned," Cuzzolina said.  But they needn't worry, he said...
We needn't worry.  Thanks, since at the end of last week UPMC ended their negotiations with Highmark in Pittsburgh, I'll go ahead and continue to worry.  UPMC won't be renegotiating their contract with Highmark when it expires in 2014.  Altoona Regional claims that, since there are so many Highmark customers in our area, there will be a separate negotiation here and I'm sure there will be.  What I'm not so sure of is how it's going to go now that UPMC has slammed the door in Highmark's face in Pittsburgh.  Once our hospital is no longer an independent entity we're expected to believe that what goes on in Pittsburgh will have no effect on us at all.  This is exactly the pill that we're all having a very hard time swallowing.
The hospital, though, is apparently undeterred.  In an even more recent piece in the Altoona Mirror, CEO Jerry Murray can't imagine why people think the board is being so secretive since he claims that questions from the community - and this is according to the Mirror - "have been rare."  
Don't you love how people form a community action group and they're suddenly no longer part of the community.  Well those trouble-makers keep badgering us about it, but no one from the community has asked any questions.  Mr. Murray, guess what?  I'm a member of the community.  I have some questions.  My question is this: how is it that you think that no one would be concerned at the possibility that their only community hospital might not accept their insurance.  You are literally asking us to just take your word for it that everything will be fine.  Even people who are well-off, not to speak of the rest of us, are often one catastrophic illness away from complete financial collapse.  At this exact moment employees of the City of Altoona are covered by Highmark insurance.  What kind of money do you think city employees make that they can be so blasé about the future cost of health care?  
The truth is that they don't know what benefits will or won't be affected.  They can't give us the answers because they won't be negotiating any new deals with Highmark; UPMC will be doing it for them once the deal is done and the hospital belongs to the UPMC network.  In the meantime we just have to sit around and hope everything works out for the best, the best likely being that UPMC's new monopoly on healthcare in our region bullies your place of business into switching your insurance provider.  
We'll apparently know as of July 1 what happens.  In the meantime, if you're a community member and you have some questions, maybe you should call the and let the administration know.