Department of Medicine

University of Pittsburgh

GIM News
Donna L. Bishop, Editor

Next issue:
December 2009

Submission deadline:
November 6, 2009


Consortium Ethics Program Brings Health Plan Ethics Expert to Pittsburgh

The Consortium Ethics Program (CEP) reached a milestone when two of the area's largest third-party payers joined the program. Highmark, Inc., joined in 2006, and UPMC Health Plan joined in 2008.

The area of health plan ethics is a new educational initiative for the CEP and has proved to be a unique challenge. To help meet this challenge, the CEP is fortunate to be working with James Sabin, MD, director of the Harvard Pilgrim Heath Care Ethics Program and clinical professor of psychiatry and ambulatory care/prevention at Harvard Medical School. From November 5 to 7, 2008, Dr. Sabin presented three seminars to Highmark's professional and administrative staff and held preplanning and postplanning meetings with Highmark's ethics committee. In addition, Dr. Sabin met with representatives of the UPMC Health Plan and discussed ways in which they could effectively integrate ethics discussions into their ongoing work.

With his potential lessons for health plan ethics, Dr. Sabin informed the institutions that the key activities for developing a robust yet practical ethics program are identifying ethical hot spots, anticipating future concerns, and then orchestrating a rich deliberative process that yields practical advice. He emphasized that the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Ethics Program is an inclusive one that involves many levels and types of employees, as well as consumers and customers of the organization.

An ethics program in itself cannot make an organization ethical, but it can support leadership to change the organization's culture. This change can affect the ability of frontline staff to navigate the confusing terrain of ethics and promote a "just" resolution to difficult issues.

If you have an ethical patient care issue that involves either of the participating health plans, we encourage you to contact the CEP at If appropriate, we can incorporate the issue into our ongoing dialogue.

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