UPMC: Healthcare Doesn’t Care | Opinion

For the past ten years, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has prioritized expansion and profits over quality of care.

UPMC now owns forty hospitals, provides insurance to nearly four million people and employs about 92,000 workers. The result is high prices, low wages, stressful working conditions, and big profits for UPMC.

According to Pennsylvania Representative Sarah Inamurato (D-21) and US Congresswoman Summer Lee (D-PA), “UPMC has abused its privileges as a nonprofit medical system to build a monopoly on health care in Western Pennsylvania.”

This comes from a hadith Report From the American Economic Freedoms Project. The organization advocates for corporate accountability and antitrust regulation. The group is partially funded by Omidyar Network.

UPMC uses classic monopolistic and anti-competitive tactics to do what monopolies have always done: distort the market and use their power to gain massive profits.

Its first tactic is consolidation. UPMC has greatly expanded its health care market share in Western Pennsylvania, growing from twelve to forty hospitals in the past ten years. UPMC has purchased hospitals to close them and force patients to seek care at their already-existing facilities. Examples include UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster and UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury.

According to the report, the FTC found that hospital mergers result in “40-50 percent higher prices” and that “wages were 6.8 percent lower for nurses and pharmacy staff and 4 percent for non-medical workers.” […] workers than they would have been if the merger had never happened.

The second tactic is union busting. UPMC lowers wages by ensuring its workers never unionize. According to the report, workers who attempt to organize a union are “surveilled, harassed, intimidated, and eventually fired.”

UPMC has been sued by the National Labor Relations Board more than 150 times and found guilty of violating federal labor law in 2014 and 2018. The result is that only 2% of UPMC workers are members of a union. For comparison, 34 percent of workers at the Allegheny Health Network are unionized.

The lack of labor protections allows UPMC to overwork and underpay its workers. A recent survey reported that 93 percent of hospital employees in Pittsburgh consider quitting daily and 90 percent reported being behind in their workload.

The third tactic is to abuse its role as an insurance provider.

The report reads, “UPMC controls 17.5 percent of the health insurance market in Pennsylvania and 32 percent of the market in Western Pennsylvania. As a major insurer, it can use access to care to acquire new patients and hurt its competitors.”

The report contains several recommendations on how to improve the quality of health care and working conditions.

Pennsylvania must pass the Pennsylvania Open Markets Act because the state lacks antitrust regulations. The state should use these regulations to dismantle UPMC’s monopoly power.

The state should enforce stricter labor regulations to ensure workers are free to form unions without harassment.

The state should ban non-compete agreements. Non-compete agreements prevent workers from working for competitors within a close geographic distance. Banning these agreements would give workers more freedom to leave UPMC and seek better conditions elsewhere.

The state must fix or revoke UPMC’s tax-exempt status because UPMC has currently violated its requirements to obtain it.

The state should prohibit denial of insurance. Currently, insurance carriers are only accepted by certain hospitals in their network. A patient who has insurance that UPMC does not accept must pay the full price for their visit or longer travel to a hospital whose insurance accepts them. Forcing hospitals to accept all licensed insurers would help break UPMC’s monopoly.

The problem with these solutions is that they are just utilities on an essentially broken system. Running health care as a for-profit business hurts everyone. Creating greater competition might lower UPMC’s prices, but it divides resources unnecessarily and will keep prices higher than they should be for their patients. The only real solution is to treat health care as a public service, like Canada and the United Kingdom, where hospitals are publicly run. This allows them to serve anyone who needs care and be held accountable.

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