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AGH changes anesthesiologists after legal dispute

Thursday, May 23, 2002

By Pamela Gaynor, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Allegheny General Hospital said yesterday that it was replacing the physicians' group that has provided its anesthesiology services for 30 years.

The decision comes as AGH and Allegheny Anesthesiology Associates, a group of 37 anesthesiologists and 65 nurse anesthetists led by Dr. Stanley Weber, are engaged in a legal dispute.

As of July 1, AGH said Western Pennsylvania Anesthesia Associates would become its exclusive provider of anesthesia services, replacing Allegheny Anesthesiology.

The new group, led by Dr. Jeffrey Grass, is the same one whose 46 anesthesiologists and 79 nurse anesthetists serve AGH's sister institution, West Penn Hospital, and other institutions in the network of their parent, West Penn Allegheny Health System.

AGH said the decision to hire a new group came after Allegheny Anesthesiology changed its policy of accepting all the health insurance plans that the hospital accepts.

Allegheny Anesthesiology's chief operating officer, Andrea Badway, said the only insurance product the group had rejected was Highmark Inc.'s traditional Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. The doctors accepted all of Highmark's managed care plans, which she said provided higher reimbursements. Badway said "a very small number of patients were impacted by our decision not to participate" in the Blue Cross Blue Shield plan.

Those patients, however, would have been required to pay their own fees for anesthesia and seek reimbursement from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, whose payments might have fallen short of what the doctors' charged.

"The insurance issue is of key importance to us," said West Penn Allegheny spokesman Tom Chakurda. "If one patient had to pay out-of-pocket because of [the group's] decision, that is one too many for us."

Allegheny Anesthesiology sued AGH, Highmark and Western Pennsylvania Anesthesia last month, claiming the three had conspired to unlawfully recruit its employees.

Badway said Allegheny Anesthesiology had sought a rate increase from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield so that it could attract more anesthesiologists to provide care at AGH. A nationwide shortage of anesthesiologists makes recruitment difficult, she said.

Chakurda said Western Pennsylvania Anesthesia was expanding to take on its contract with AGH. He said the hospital and its parent were confident the group would be able to add a sufficient number of new doctors and nurse anesthetists.

Although Allegheny Anesthesiology is rumored to be in discussions with UPMC Health System, Badway declined comment on where the practice may relocate. UPMC also declined comment on the group's plans.

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