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Court halts New Jersey hospital merger

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A New Jersey federal court on Aug. 4 granted the Federal Trade Commission's bid to block the planned merger of Edison, N.J.-based Hackensack Meridian Health and Englewood (N.J.) Health. 

The FTC, which requested a preliminary injunction against the transaction, filed an administrative complaint in December. The court's decision allows the agency to pursue an administrative case against the deal. The trial is slated to begin Oct. 12. 

In its complaint, the FTC said the proposed transaction would eliminate close competition between Hackensack Meridian and Englewood, and the merged system would control half of the acute care hospitals in Bergen County, N.J. 

The court's opinion and reasoning were filed under seal, but more information will be released. The parties were ordered to tell the court by Aug. 18 which portions of the opinion should remain under seal and the legal basis for doing so. If the information isn't provided by the deadline, the court will unseal the entire opinion. 

"Too many hospital mergers lead to jacked up prices and diminished care for patients most in need," FTC Office of Public Affairs Director Lindsay Kryzak said in a statement following the court's decision. "It remains a mystery why these two hospital systems decided to pursue a highly suspicious merger in the middle of a global pandemic. The court has hit pause on this merger, which the FTC alleges is unlawful. Hospital executives hatching merger plans should take note."

Hackensack Meridian and Englewood Health, which signed a definitive agreement to merge in October 2019, said they would review the judge's opinion and evaluate their options over the coming weeks. 

"This opinion is very unfortunate for the residents that Hackensack Meridian Health and Englewood Health serve," the organizations said in a joint statement.

Hackensack Meridian Health and Englewood Health said the merger is in the best interest of patients and would allow the organizations to invest in programs and services, achieve cost efficiencies and improve access to care, quality outcomes and affordability of care. 

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