PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Highmark has launched a new advertisement designed to rally support for its acquisition of West Penn Allegheny with a pointed attack on its rival UPMC.

“West Penn Allegheny Health System is fighting for its existence,” the ad intones. “That means that this region could be at the mercy of what the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calls a ‘high-priced UPMC monopoly.’”

Highmark spokesperson Aaron Billger says the public needs to understand what’s at stake.

“We thought it was a great time to rally public and community support around the idea of preserving West Penn Allegheny Health System, preserving the 12,000 jobs that make up the health care system, and really reinforcing the need for competition in the marketplace, affordable quality health care.”

As for the ad’s specific mention of UPMC, says spokesman Paul Wood, “It’s really hard to know what to make of it. You know we have never opposed Highmark’s acquisition of West Penn.”

Wood says UPMC supports Highmark’s merger and is not afraid of competition in health care services.

“We are looking forward to competition. We relish competition,” said Wood.

So why did Highmark mention UPMC in its ad?

“UPMC has the market place power right now that is driving or, some could say, positioning a monopoly in the marketplace,” noted Billger.

But that’s hypocritical, says UPMC, because Highmark has a similar monopoly of health insurance.

“The market share Highmark enjoys in the insurance market is far greater than the market share UPMC has in the health care market,” said Wood.

No matter, both giants say customers will benefit from competition.

“It is our hope to create a health care system that is very patient-centered and patient-focused,” said Highmark’s Billger.

“We will get better and our patients will look forward to coming to UPMC more than they are now,” noted UPMC’s Wood.

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