By Jon Delano


PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The consent agreement that allows Highmark customers to continue to get UPMC medical services expires June 30, and UPMC will not extend it.

But the agreement also contains a provision that allows the parties to apply to the court for a “modification” in the agreement “in the public interest.”

On Thursday, lawyers for Attorney General Josh Shapiro told state Supreme Court justices that the public interest requires that this consent decree be extended at least temporarily.

Seven members of the state Supreme Court heard lawyers for the Attorney General, Highmark and UPMC argue what Chief Justice Tom Saylor called “a narrow legal issue before us.”

That issue is whether a court has power to modify a consent agreement and extend the June 30 deadline in the public interest so that Highmark customers can continue to use UPMC services after that date.

“We’re not dealing with ordinary commercial businesses. We are here to look out for consumers and patients,” Bart DeLone, the attorney general’s top litigator, told the justices.

But UPMC’s attorney, Leon DeJulius, said the modification clause in the consent decree wasn’t a license to rewrite the decree, telling the justices, “It’s wiping out the consent decree, including the termination date. That wasn’t the purpose of this agreement.”

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Last February, the attorney general sued UPMC, claiming the medical provider which also has its own insurance company, is violating the state’s public charities law by its actions against Highmark customers.

That case is currently in commonwealth court, but in the meantime, Shapiro wants the consent decree deadline extended to preserve the status quo for Highmark customers.

Four justices — Max Baer, Christine Donohue, Debra Todd and David Wecht, who all come from this area — asked the most questions.

“I’m not convinced the end date of a contact is modifiable,” Justice Baer said.

“There seems to be no bright line (on) how much change … is too much change,” Justice Wecht said.

Lawyers will tell you, don’t draw any conclusions from questions or comments made by judges in court.

Both sides tell KDKA they made strong cases.

It really depends on whether at least four of the seven justices think modifying the consent decree’s end date is allowable if in the public interest.

No matter what happens, Attorney General Shapiro’s lawsuit against UPMC will continue.