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Atrium Health pushes to move outside of county lines

Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health is looking to change a state law allowing the health system to expand its footprint across the state, according to The Charlotte Observer.

Under the state law, Atrium is restricted in how it operates outside of Mecklenburg County and the surrounding 10-mile zone. The law effectively bans the health system from doing business in other counties unless it makes a deal with a hospital in one of those counties, according to the report.

Atrium currently maintains five hospitals in Mecklenburg County, seven outside the county, and numerous affiliations with hospitals across North Carolina and South Carolina.

Health system officials claim the change in regulation will allow Atrium to better serve its patients by "being able to provide continual care in the counties where they live" — particularly patients from other parts of the state who come to Atrium's Charlotte-based emergency departments, the health system said in a statement to The Charlotte Observer.

Atrium said its most recent attempt to change state law does not result from any impending plans to grow in size or scope, but serves as an attempt to take a smaller financial hit from treating Medicaid patients, the report states. Atrium told The Charlotte Observer it provided $2.03 billion in free and uncompensated community benefits last year, including losses to treat Medicaid and Medicare patients, as it does not turn those patients away.

However, some experts and hospital competitors argue repealing the provision may lead to a decrease in competition and higher healthcare costs for patients. Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health also noted patients and providers should have the opportunity to weigh in on such statewide changes.

"Provisions that change the fundamental landscape of healthcare in our state should be fully vetted and discussed before being passed into law. They should not be masked as innocuous changes and rushed through without careful consideration during the quickly waning days of a legislative session," Novant Health said in a statement to the publication.

The repeal was included in House Bill 382 last week, but has since been removed. It is unclear if it will appear in future legislation. Atrium Health would still require state approval before opening a new hospital, the report states.

To access the full report, click here.

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