The ruling by Judge Ward of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas highlights another facet of the ongoing dispute between UPMC and Highmark.

On February 18, 2015, Judge Ward of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas ruled that the arbitration agreements contained in the various agreements between Highmark and UPMC hospitals, most of which have separate participation agreements with Highmark and which each contain substantially identical arbitration provisions, apply to the disputes between the parties and are not preempted by the Consent Decrees that each of those parties have entered into with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

One of the key points is that each of the parties have entered into separate Consent Decrees with the Commonwealth.  As you may recall, it was reported that separate Consent Decrees were created because the parties would not negotiate together.

Now the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas is ruling that the Consent Decrees are not agreements between the two parties; instead they are agreements between the separate parties and the Commonwealth.  On the other hand, the various hospital participation agreements are agreements between the parties and in those agreements the parties have agreed to certain arbitration provisions.  The Court stated as follows:

UPMC appears to contend that the Consent Decree operates as an amendment to the agreements between Highmark and UPMC.  UPMC further argues that the Consent Decrees, in addition to amending the parties written agreements, also divest this court of jurisdiction to interpret the agreements.  The Consent Decrees, however, do not purport to amend the parties’ agreements, nor could they.  The Consent Decrees are agreements between UPMC and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Highmark and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, respectively.  Accordingly, they do not deprive this Court of jurisdiction.