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Divisive healthcare relationships

If you think politics is divisive, take a look at health care. Relationships in that industry sometimes make Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi look like chums.

Charleston Area Medical Center, the largest health care provider in West Virginia’s capital city, is severing its relationship with The Health Plan, an insurer headquartered in Wheeling. Why? To save money? Because of bad service? For the general good of patients, including the Public Employees Insurance Agency clients served by THP?

No. It’s because of a planned merger between THP and WVU Medicine, according to Jim Pennington, who’s CEO of THP.

He told our reporter a CAMC official explained to him that the Charleston hospital sees WVU Medicine as a competitor — “the northern aggressor moving into our territory,” as Pennington put it. He told MetroNews that CAMC officials used the “northern aggressor” terminology several times. And you thought the Civil War ended in 1865.

It’s true that WVU Medicine has been expanding throughout the state. It has become West Virginia’s largest health care provider, by far, owning or engaging in management agreements with at least 17 hospitals, including, in our area, Wheeling Hospital, Reynolds Memorial, Wetzel County and even hospitals in Belmont and Harrison counties of Ohio.

How has that happened? Because health care is much bigger business than it was just a few years ago. It has become a grow or die situation, in some respects. Many physicians have found going it alone in private practice just isn’t a viable business model anymore. And executives at many hospitals have concluded that if they don’t merge with someone else, their days are numbered.

What does CAMC’s decision mean? Well, for starters, it means that if your health insurance is through THP, CAMC won’t accept it after Dec. 31 — though I’ve been told PEIA clients won’t be affected until next summer. After that, thousands of working and retired public employees covered by the PEIA will have to rethink their insurance.

All because CAMC officials see WVU Medicine not as a partner but as the “northern aggressor,” apparently.

For their part, CAMC officials hadn’t, at this writing, addressed the northern aggressor angle. They issued a press release stating they would continue to work with WVU Medical School on education and research.

But CAMC officials, while not addressing WVU Medicine and THP directly, added that they “will continue to do what we think is best for our patients, physicians and all of central and southern WV.”

I’m not certain how limiting choice in health insurance is doing what’s best for patients.

It all reminds me of the decades-long duel between Wheeling Hospital and Ohio Valley Medical Center, which ended a few weeks ago when OVMC shut down. It became a situation in which some affiliated with both hospitals adopted the philosophy that one was either for them or against them. Attempting to stand on the middle ground was not permitted.

This is crazy, folks. The name of the game is supposed to be providing the best health care at the lowest price — not playing silly geographic games.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.