By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There was another step forward in the plan by Highmark to take over the struggling West Penn Allegheny Health System.

Two consultants hired to take a look at the possible merger say it could be beneficial for local subscribers and the region, if it can actually go through – and that’s a big “if.”

The State Health Insurance Department hired the consultants to take a look at what it would mean to have the area’s top insurance company take over the region’s second largest health system.

The reports were meant to help state officials decide whether or not to approve the affiliation.

Blackstone Advisory Partners says there’s “A reasonable economic basis” to predict the merger would result in better care, reduced costs for consumers and better competition.

The other company, Compass Lexicon, agrees the deal would be in the public interest, but say there’s still uncertainty about whether it can go through.

“I believe their conclusion is that there could be a better product a better, a lower costing product for the community which would benefit Highmark’s policy holders,” said Jim McTiernan with Triad USA. “And that Highmark has the financial wherewithal to make a go of it. Whether they actually make it work or not, time will tell.”

For their part, Highmark officials say they’re pleased that the consultants think the affiliation could be good for the region.

No word on when the insurance department will rule on whether the merger can go through, but the clock is ticking.

The affiliation agreement between Highmark and West Penn Allegheny is set to expire at the end of the month.

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