PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — They were once partners, and both say they are open to partnering again.
But on Thursday in court, West Penn Allegheny and Highmark accused each other of breaking the original deal that would have merged the hospital system with this region’s largest health insurer.
Judge Christine Ward’s courtroom was packed with lawyers and health care officials to hear testimony on West Penn Allegheny’s assertion that Highmark breached their affiliation agreement.
The main witness was Highmark CEO Dr. William Winkenwerder, who testified that Highmark did not breach or scuttle the year-old deal.
Winkenwerder testified he just wanted to restructure the system’s $800 million debt to meet concerns raised by the state insurance department, which has to approve the final deal.
But on cross-examination, notes from his meeting with West Penn Allegheny board members seemed to suggest a different impression might have been left.
It’s clear that Highmark did tell West Penn Allegheny that the original affiliation agreement was “history,” but what exactly that means is a matter of dispute.
It’s also clear that Highmark officials still want a deal with West Penn Allegheny, but the nature of that deal is subject to debate.
Winkenwerder testified that calling the original agreement “history” did not imply the overall deal was dead — and he repeated his view that Highmark still wants to work something out with West Penn Allegheny.
A surprise Highmark witness was Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America, whose union members are insured by Highmark.
“Highmark put $200 million already into trying to prop up the healthcare system. That money comes from our premiums, so we believe we’re entitled to have a say,” Gerard told KDKA’s Jon Delano after he testified. “We wanted to have our say about making sure that there was going to be a West Penn Allegheny system so that our members would get continuity of care.”
The court hearing will continue on Friday.