Health Care and Soccer: How I Softened My View of Pitt
February 28, 2017 5:00 AM
by John Hook
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As I type this I am sitting outside Ambrose Urbanic Field, the turf soccer stadium on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. For those who know me I am almost as shocked typing that sentence as you are reading it.

For those who don’t know me, my relationship with Pitt was formed in the days when you only needed to say two words to describe how you felt about Pitt: Forty-eight. Fourteen.

I grew up when Penn State was one of a number of colleges around the country that were not in a football conference. They were an independent, meaning they could schedule who they wanted, when they wanted. Today the colleges with that characteristic number a mere four. Back in 1978 when Division I-A football was formed there were more than 30 “Independents” -- including Penn State and many of the eastern schools Penn State played in football every year, one of which was Pitt.

From 1972 to 1992 the Penn State vs. Pitt football game was the last regular-season game of the year (except 1987 when it was next-to-last) and during that time Penn State won their fair share. 14 wins, 6 losses and 1 tie to be exact. As fans we felt we “owned” Pitt and the animosity we displayed toward that school in the western part of the state was evident in the buttons and shirts we wore around campus and to the games. Many of which are currently being resurrected.

The primary point being that at that time I could never imagine having anything to do with the University of Pittsburgh, let alone set foot on its cardiac-stress-inducing campus.

But, oh does the passion of youth look different in the rearview mirror of life.

At the moment I am here on Pitt’s campus as a sports-supporting parent while our son attends a soccer clinic, where every Pitt coach, player and support staff person has been cordial, friendly, happy and just darn glad to see us. Having just last year witnessed his first ever football game between Penn State and Pitt, our son harbors none of the historical ill will his dad carries and is just excited to be here learning from coaches at a major Division I university. What’s a father to do?

And this is just one of several recent occurrences that have softened my countenance toward Pitt.

Another would be a visit to see our family doctor.

For close to the last two decades I have been buying health insurance for our family. During that time we have been a “group” of one family. For a number of those years we were with a single company, the monthly premiums were between $550 and $750 a year, and the deductibles were all fairly benign.  When we relocated to Happy Valley we eventually switched to a different company with better local coverage but similar costs – we were even as low as $440 a month for a while.

A few years ago that changed. One day we received a letter from our insurance company informing us they would no longer be able to sell us insurance. To make a long story short, we needed to buy our health insurance from the government. Since then our premiums have continued to go up and are currently over $1,400 a month, the deductibles have quadrupled, and we have to change plans every year or two because the companies either decide not to sell health insurance anymore or the rates go way up.

Which brings us to this year. We again found ourselves changing insurers on Jan. 1. We found the best plan for the money – even kept the cost equal to last year for the first time in this “government” era – and received all our new cards. Three weeks ago when I went for my semi-annual blood work and check-up (gotta keep those cholesterol numbers in line!) I presented my new insurance card. A UPMC card. It was then I realized that UPMC stands for University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Here I was in Happy Valley going to a medical facility that housed not only my doctor but Penn State offices as well, and I was using a University of Pittsburgh insurance card. I will admit I smiled as I thought about the irony. Turns out Penn State’s medical facility – Milton S. Hershey Medical Center – didn’t offer a local plan for insurance. But UPMC does.

That gruff exterior of mine softened a bit more. And then add this to it.

Our daughter is a senior at the University of Central Florida and getting her health services administration degree online. She needed to do an internship this semester to fulfill her degree requirements and investigated several options. Guess where she’s doing that internship? UPMC Altoona. That would be the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Altoona. And she is having a wonderful experience and is extremely impressed with all the people she is meeting and learning from.

Oh my. Here I have spent the better part of 50 years loathing the concept known as Pitt yet I’m having these positive interactions with them. What to do?

Well, perhaps things at Pitt have changed. Perhaps over the years they have become better at being reasonable, intelligent people and fans.

Or, perhaps they were always that way and my contempt was mired in stereotypes created from hearsay and old wives tales told by those with a grudge to bear and a button or shirt to sell. Perhaps it’s time for the true meaning of our Pennsylvania brotherhood to shine through.

I don’t know, that sounds like a lot of new tricks to teach this old dog. I guess the best test will be later this year, on Sept. 11 at Beaver Stadium. Feel free to stop by our tailgate and see how I’m doing.


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