Smaller Institutions Successfully Compete in Shadow of Pittsburgh Titans

May 1, 2014

by Cheryl Haas

Cheryl HaasThere’s a nasty fight going on in Pittsburgh. Two of the biggest health care names in the service area are spending millions of advertising dol­lars in hopes of landing a knockout punch. UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) and Highmark, traditionally an insurer, have been locked in a long-running feud that has spilled from the courtroom to the airwaves. At the root of the dispute is Highmark’s entrance into the provider arena when it acquired West Penn Allegheny Health System, which happened to be UPMC’s chief rival. As a result, UPMC has refused to renew hospital and physician contracts with Highmark that expire at the end of 2014 and has expanded its own insurance services. While their lawyers haggle, both giants have carried the battle onto the TV airwaves, where they duke it out in the court of public opinion.

In their efforts to pummel each other, UPMC and Highmark outspend smaller health systems in adjacent counties by huge sums. Kantar Media, an international firm that tracks ad buys and provides competitive in­telligence, reported that between January 2013 and September 2013, UPMC spent $4.56 million on adver­tising. Allegheny spent $1.66 million (which doesn’t include monies spent by its parent company, High­mark). In contrast, Excela Health and Heritage Valley Health System, the next largest systems outside the metro area, each spent approximately $500,000. Butler Health System lagged way behind the giants with adver­tising expenditures of $26,000, and Washington Health System spent a mere $16,000 in keeping its brand be­fore the public.

So how do the “little guys” compete when their re­sources are limited in comparison? The answer is – surprisingly well.


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