PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Allegheny County officials say they are sticking with Highmark as the health care provider for its employees.

“Allegheny County will exclusively retain Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield for its health care coverage through next year, meaning Dec. 31, 2015, regardless of whether any agreement is reached with UPMC,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

If some employers are waiting to see what happens between UPMC and Highmark before moving forward, the county is not.

In total, 6,700 Allegheny County employees are at issue, but the timing could have broader implications.

It comes as UPMC and Highmark are operating under an extension agreement under the watchful eye of state government. Their threatened divorce could throw the local health care marketplace into disarray.

But Highmark offered the county a $20 million discount to stick with them over the next two years, and the county executive admits he is sending a not too subtle message about getting both sides to talk.

“You could call that a little bit of a message or a little bit of a signal,” says Fitzgerald. “I’m sure there are discussions being held with other institutions and other organizations, other businesses. I get those calls all the time about their concern, ’Can you do anything about it?’ We don’t have legislative power with respect to that. That’s a state issue, but there’s certainly things we can do with how our employees operate, with how we interact with the community, and I think, yeah, maybe there was some sort of a message that we portray with this action.”

At this point, the agreement between UPMC and Highmark expires at the end of this year.

There’s been no comment so far from UPMC.

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