Officials criticize Highmark, UPMC for 'attack' ads

Highmark and its rival University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have been scolded by Pennsylvania officials for a "lack of professionalism" surrounding negative ads both companies have launched.

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine and Secretary of Health Michael Wolf sent letters to Highmark and UPMC, accusing the companies of using fear to motivate consumers' choices as well as a "lack of professionalism and judgment," reported the Associated Press.

The letter also said Gov. Tom Corbett has formed a new task force specifically to review the TV and print ads from Highmark and UPMC for inaccurate or misleading statements. The task force aims to ensure "consumers receive truthful and timely communications that are driven by accuracy, not fear," the Pittsburgh Business Journal reported.

"The departments have residual concern that the parties' advertisements are unnecessarily negative and do little to further legitimate competitive interests," the letter said. "We remain concerned for the accuracy of the information contained therein, as well as the unprofessional negative tone."

The officials also urged the companies to stop "any such negative attack advertisements" until the task force finishes its review. They warned any "unnecessary and negative advertising and statements" would be considered when the state determines whether to take any action against either Highmark or UPMC.

In response to the letter, Highmark said its "communications in the media have been positive. They focus on the need for the parties to work together to establish a more constructive relationship and on affordable access to care," noted the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In the rivals' recent tiff, UPMC sued Highmark for using an ad campaign to falsely accuse UPMC hospitals of refusing to admit its members and denying care to thousands of people. Only a few days after Highmark and UPMC received the letter, UPMC withdrew its lawsuit against Highmark, the Post-Gazette reported. "UPMC continues to believe that Highmark's advertisements were and are false and misleading, but UPMC is committed to working within the process established by the Task Force to accomplish its objectives," it said in the notice of dismissal.

To learn more:
- read the Associated Press article
- see the Pittsburgh Business Journal article
- check out the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette articles on the letter and lawsuit withdrawal