PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Allegheny County Judge Christine Ward has essentially ordered West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS) to renew negotiations with Highmark, declaring that WPAHS cannot talk to any other possible suitor without breaching its original affiliation agreement.

The decision in favor of Highmark was sought by the insurance giant when West Penn Allegheny accused Highmark of trying to force it into bankruptcy.

The judge said WPAHS was wrong to unilaterally declare a breach in their agreement.

In a statement, Highmark said it was pleased by the judge’s decision, adding: “We remain firmly committed to an affiliation between Highmark and WPAHS. We believe that the proposed affiliation is in the best interests of both parties, and more importantly, the entire community.”

For its part, West Penn Allegheny’s board chairman Jack Isherwood said he was disappointed in the preliminary injunction, but added: “As we have said from the beginning, we believe that Highmark is a good partner for WPAHS. We look forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with them as soon as possible regarding the best way to move forward.”

While Judge Ward said this region has a strong interest in another healthcare network that provides competition and choice to the consumer, it is now up to Highmark and West Penn Allegheny to decide how best to make their affiliation work.

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