I am responding to Heather Briccetti’s May 3 letter, “Let’s welcome Highmark and its ongoing investment.” The letter paints a rosy picture of Highmark’s acquisition of HealthNow, the parent company of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York (BCBSWNY). I seek to clarify some points in Briccetti’s letter as conditions for this transaction to be a win-win for this community and Highmark as they take over local control of Western New York’s largest, local health insurer.
The letter states “Highmark promises include (but are not limited to); first, preserving jobs and second, enhancing (BCBSWNY’s) long track record of granting millions of dollars annually to deserving, health-related nonprofits.” These are two important promises.
The Highmark deal ensures no job loss for three years only. Really? Such a shallow promise is not good enough for the control Highmark gets of our local health care fabric. We seek and deserve long term reality and accountability of a locally responsive health care system financed through the health care premiums of our community’s people. We look at all types of resources; people who work, people who are insured, entities who provide and how investments in our community’s health fabric happen. Transparency of it all; true ability to participate and influence decisions use all these markers and more.
More strikingly, in this deal, Highmark committed only $2 million per year to address health disparities. Briccetti notes that Highmark will now have more than $20 billion in annual revenue. HealthNow has been a generous giver to impacting health disparities in Western New York. Over the last three years HealthNow has given some $2-3 million each year to a wide range of local initiatives from Gardens Buffalo Niagara to Boys and Girls Clubs of WNY. As Highmark gains the benefits they seek with this transaction, a promise to make $6 million a year in charitable contribution is reasonable to live up to Highmark’s charitable commitment to this community.