Lawmakers speak out on UPMC’s anti-bill campaign

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Two Pittsburgh-area lawmakers are speaking out about a direct mail and robocall “political campaign” the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is waging against their co-sponsored bills that would require all large health systems in the state to accept insurance from any in-state company.

UPMC has most recently targeted state Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, though the hospital network in August also targeted state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny.

The Christiana mailer compares the bills to the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, telling his constituents, “If you don’t like what’s going on in Washington, wait until you hear what some state politicians, like Representative Jim Christiana, want to do with your health care.”

UPMC contends the bills are designed to benefit Highmark Inc., UPMC’s chief competitor in western Pennsylvania, whose subscribers won’t be able to use most UPMC doctors and hospitals as in-network providers beginning in 2015. That means Highmark subscribers will pay more to use UPMC’s services after next year or have to use non-UPMC doctors and hospitals.

Frankel and Christiana said their bills are about promoting fairness and competition — and are not meant to benefit Highmark specifically or exclusively — and said UPMC, as a charitable nonprofit, shouldn’t be engaging in such a campaign.

“Those are the letters of purely public charity, a purely public charity that receives hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks every single year,” Christiana said. “Now they are spending tens of thousands of dollars on campaign mailers and phone calls to protect their monopoly and their business plan.”

UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said the health network has earned its tax-exempt, charitable status — which is nonetheless being challenged separately by the city of Pittsburgh, where many of its tax-exempt properties are located — by more than a half billion dollars’ worth of charitable spending. That includes more than $238 million worth of free health care, and $350 million in contributions to the University of Pittsburgh and other tax-exempt entities.

Wood said Christiana “touts himself as a conservative” but said the bills he co-sponsors are “probably even more government intrusion than ever imagined in the Affordable Care Act.” Wood noted that UPMC supports an overhaul of national health care that would lead to a single-payer system.

Frankel and Christiana want state Attorney General Kathleen Kane to review UPMC’s tactics. Kane’s office wouldn’t comment on the dispute.

“We should never have dollars from tax breaks going towards this type of material,” Christiana said.

“I’m trying to recall when a nonprofit with ‘purely public charity’ tax exemptions, that seeks charitable contributions, has ever launched this kind of personal attack against a lawmaker,” Frankel said. “I think it’s unprecedented.”

Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, agreed.

“It’s rare or unheard of to see a corporation or nonprofit do that kind of ad,” Madonna said. “I’ve not heard of it.”

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