is patient safety a casualty of the highmark upmc dispute

Considering I practice law primarily in the field of medical negligence, I have become accustomed to situations wherein patient safety takes a back seat to profit motives. However, I read with sadness the article in Tuesday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette titled Highmark’s ‘Community Blue’ patients rejected by UPMC about UPMC essentially firing patients who are now covered under a new Highmark insurance plan, Community Blue. What was striking about the piece is that UPMC will not even allow Community Blue patients the option of paying cash in order to continue care with a doctor they have known and trusted for years. In the follow up article in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette titled Medical Ethics focus between dispute between UPMC and Highmark an interesting contrast is drawn. Other medical providers and insurers consulted for the article indicated that they never turn away self-paying patients nor do they deny out-of-network access to their physicians as it would be amoral and unethical. So one must ask – what is the basis and motive of UPMC’s decision to shut out Community Blue patients?

For two giant and profitable corporations who are in the business of providing medical services, shouldn’t the focus be on patient care and patient safety? I wonder how many cancer patients who are in the midst of a clinical trial with their UPMC doctor will find themselves in a situation where their doctor is not permitted to continue to treat them. Where do they go for continuation of their individualized treatment? How many patients with chronic medical conditions will be forbidden from seeing their doctor of ten or twenty years ? Where is the outrage for the patients abandoned by their doctors? Where is the uprising of dedicated and compassionate physicians who do feel a moral and ethical obligation to continue to treat their patients regardless of the type of insurance they have?

Patient safety and providing quality medical care should be paramount concerns to heath providers and health insurers like UPMC and Highmark. Knowingly and callously disrupting the continuity of care between a patient and her doctor for the upper hand in an on-going dispute is yet another shameful example of putting profits above patients.

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