Dear UPMC and Highmark: Stop Being Ridiculous
After weeks of gross TV attack ads, the next step is shin-kicking and wet-willies.
Each Sunday, tucked somewhere between the pages of A-1 and A-14 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette print edition, you'll find a full-page Highmark ad outlining the evils of UPMC. Flip just a few pages and you’ll find a UPMC ad attacking the evildoers at Highmark.
You’re a stupid-head! No, you’re a stupid-head, stupid-head!
I understand why UPMC and Highmark are fighting. I do. Highmark’s recent purchase of West Penn Allegheny Health System means that it is is now a direct competitor of UPMC. Therefore, UPMC is (in a manner of speaking) taking its UPMC-branded ball and going home.
Fact is, UPMC holds the lion's share of the market on affiliated doctors and hospitals in this region, so it is vitally important that Highmark remain a network partner. If that doesn’t happen? Its customers will be living President Barack Obama's worst nightmare — liking their doctors and health plan but not being able to keep them.*
*That sound you heard was the comment section floodgates opening and every single dingbat in Pennsylvania scrolling through the rest of this article to engage in a different kind of pointless fight.
At the same time, buying the financially strapped West Penn makes sense for Highmark. And for us, right? Allowing the region to have two major health-care players seems reasonable. Rather than, you know, UPMC grabbing the "Monopoly: Healthcare Edition" game board and victoriously hoisting it to the heavens, shouting, "ALL YOUR HOSPITALS ARE BELONG TO US."
So why can’t those two play nice? Well, naturally, UPMC wants to protect its revenue streams and sees partnering with a direct competitor as counterproductive. And … OBAMACARE! OBAMACARE! FLYING PUPPIES! (Just checking to see if you were still awake.)
Somehow, this has turned into a zero-sum game. Both contestants appear to be seeking total victory, and that was fine. Until they took their dumb playground fight to the court of public opinion. Then I got stabby, punchy, facepalm-y and, eventually, headdesk-y.
It started with the respective spokespeople crafting their side of the narrative. Fine. Have at it. Earn your paychecks.
Then the newspaper ad war started. Highmark touting itself; UPMC touting itself. Fine. Pat yourselves on the back.
Then they started taking out full-page Post-Gazette ads — not to tout their respective lifesaving medical accomplishments but to attack each other by name.
"Where does Highmark money go?"
"UPMC claims it has no employees."
"Highmark says it wants to offer 'affordable access' to UPMC. But it won't."
"Who can stop UPMC from limiting affordable access? You can."
"Highmark, isn't it time to set the record straight?"
"UPMC, meet you on the playground at 3. It's on."
I only made up one of those.
Not content with bickering in the newspapers, the TV commercials started. And boy, did they increase as the days wore on — until they eventually morphed into election-eve ads with "Paid for by ..." disclaimers. I half expected to see Jeffrey Romoff or William Winkenwerder Jr. show up at the end to say, "I approve this message."
You want to go to UPMC Passavant? Too bad, lady. (Also: Fill out your Pittsburgh bingo card for the “What hawspitawl?” pronunciation. Superb method acting.)
But Highmark says UPMC is the one cutting care to customers:
But UPMC says:
But Highmark says:
Can someone please find me the perfect frustrated .gif? Someone? Editor minions?
Look, I'm not here to take a side or defend one competitor versus the other. I'm here to use this forum to speak up on behalf of the people of the Pittsburgh region to say this to both UPMC and Highmark:
Stop this pointless waste of money.
Stop this ad war.
Stop putting money into poorly acted commercials.
Make your endless brigade of lawyers actually earn paychecks and find a resolution for this mess.
I am about to drop a truth bomb, and I RELISH the fight in the comments with anyone who attempts to refute anything I say after this colon:
Customers don't care about anything being said in any of these ads. We don't believe you because disbelief and skepticism are a natural extension of ads that are political in nature. We are not watching the commercials and saying, "Right on, UPMC!" or "You tell 'em, Highmark!" or "I was on Highmark's side, but now I'm on UPMC's side!"
We are watching the ads and saying, "Please ... make it stop."
We are not opening the Sunday paper to read these ads in the hopes of finally coming down on either side of the fence. I hate to tell you this, but there is no fence. It's like the final three days leading up to an important election when we are mercilessly bombarded with scary-sounding ads at every turn. We start to hate everyone, even the person we're going to vote for. We would get sick of our own father’s face if he was the one running for office. "Not this guy again. Ugh."
Get. The lawyers. To end. This mess.
Think of all the money that could be put to better use. Donate it to charities. Fund more breakthrough medical research. Buy us all cookies?
When this ridiculousness ends, we hope you'll realize that you have not damaged our opinion of your competitor; you've damaged our opinions of BOTH of you.
For now, we’ll just smile and nod our heads at the dumb world you have created, where Highmark is shipping containers of cash to Ohio in the dead of night and UPMC has 35,000 zombie employees wandering the halls screaming, "BRAINSSSS!” while its executives recline in chairs made out of $100 bills.
At least that's what I learned from the ads.
And ads don't lie.