Highmark to affiliate with Premier Medical Associates

Health insurance giant Highmark Inc. on Wednesday announced an affiliation with Monroeville-based Premier Medical Associates, western Pennsylvania’s biggest independent physicians’ practice.

“Premier and Highmark share the same values about putting patients first and ensuring that they are at the center of everything we do,” Highmark President and CEO Dr. Ken Melani said in a prepared statement. “This new relationship will provide yet another important element in building a stronger physician-led health care system to serve the people of western Pennsylvania, including this practice’s focus in Pittsburgh’s eastern suburbs.”

Premier employs around 60 doctors, including a dozen hospitalists who work at Forbes Regional Hospital. Hospitalists specialize in the care of people who have been admitted to a hospital and studies have shown that hospitalists can reduce costs while improving overall quality of care.

Highmark also announced plans to build an ambulatory surgery center in the Monroeville-Murrysville area, one of 10 outpatient centers the insurer plans to build in western Pennsylvania. The first is preparing to open at Murrysville Professional Commons on Old William Penn Highway.

No other details were disclosed. Highmark’s chief rival, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has had an outpatient surgery center in Monroeville for years. Also, UPMC plans to open a full-service hospital about a mile from Forbes Regional in July.

Heart surgery and other services that have been added over the years at Forbes have been in response to community need, said Dr. Mark Rubino, chief medical officer at Forbes.

“We didn’t built these facilities for competitive reasons, but because our neighbors in the community asked us,” he said. “We want to be a good neighbor.”

Melani said collaboration was possible with other health care providers, but maybe not UPMC.

“There’s plenty of room for collaboration when people want to collaborate,” he said. “Unfortunately, they don’t want to collaborate. They want to control and dominate.”

The Premier affiliation announcement was made at West Penn Allegheny Health System’s Forbes Regional Hospital, which disclosed details of a $20 million facelift, which will happen over the next year. Included in the plans is a two-story addition to the emergency department, which has 50,000 patient visits annually, and improvements to the hospital’s entry, signage and nursing units, according to Dan Lebish, executive vice president of integrated delivery systems at Highmark. Also planned is a new breast care center, a third cardiovascular surgery operating room and information technology upgrades.

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