The sponsor of a House bill to avert a health care coverage crisis in western Pennsylvania because of a contract dispute between Highmark, a Blues carrier, and UPMC, a provider, said that he hopes the legislation achieves what discussions so far have not.

“We can‟t wait around with the risk of this thing blowing up,” said State Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-Allegheny. “It‟s about making sure thousands of western Pennsylvanians continue to have health care coverage.”

The bill, HB 32, has more more than 60 bipartisan co-sponsors

Earlier this year, UPMC ended negotiations with Highmark citing the insurer's intent to acquire the West Penn Allegheny Health System, which competes with UPMC as a provider. The 10-year contract between the two ends on June 30, 2012, with a one-year run-out period to follow.

Perhaps the most controversial provision in DeLuca‟s bill would allow the state Insurance Commissioner to order a contract to continue when “it‟s in the best interests of the residents.”

Deluca said that neither Highmark nor UPMC were involved in the crafting of the language for the bill.

For its part, Highmark issued a statement saying that it supports legislative efforts to get UPMC to negotiate a new contract.

“We remain open to a third part to mediate the dispute in order to preserve provider choice and ensure that community assets are available for the public good,” the statement said.

The House Insurance and the Senate Banking & Insurance Committees have been holding hearings on the contract dispute.