A federal judge in Pennsylvania has tossed the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s class-action suit against the state’s attorney general, the latest legal action in the ongoing court battle over the end of the health system’s current deal with rival Highmark.
UPMC’s existing deal with Highmark ends June 30, and Shapiro is aiming to extend that consent decree, which would ensure that members enrolled in either health plan would be covered for services provided at the other’s healthcare facilities.
In its suit, UPMC argued that elements of Shapiro’s modified agreement would not be legally enforceable. District Judge John Jones, however, said in his ruling (PDF) that this claim was not “ripe,” as it's too soon to tell how a modified agreement might be enforced.
“Even taking all of UPMC’s allegations as true that General Shapiro’s stated intentions may present a threat of harm—as is our duty at this juncture—UPMC has failed entirely to demonstrate that said threat is 'real' rather than 'uncertain' or 'contingent,’” Jones wrote in the opinion.
A spokesman for the attorney general’s office chastised UPMC for filing the suit at the time, saying that it showed the health system was willing to spend untold hours and dollars on a legal fight instead of “focusing on their stated mission as a nonprofit charity.”
A spokesman for UPMC declined to comment on the ruling.
UPMC and Highmark’s public breakup has been ongoing for the better part of a decade, after Highmark purchased what is now Allegheny Health Network to directly challenge UPMC in the provider space.
The federal judge’s ruling sets up a showdown between Shapiro and UPMC in the state’s Supreme Court. A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court determined that it could not extend the consent decree past June 30, as that deadline had been set by the higher court.
Shapiro appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, and oral arguments are scheduled for May 16.
In his appeal, Shapiro maintained that extending the consent decree or reaching a new or modified agreement is in the public interest as it protects their access to care. UPMC argued that he was trying to pour his “old wine into a new legal bottle.”