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FTC Investigates Fine Line Between Hospital Consolidation and Anti-Competition

The Federal Trade Commission's challenge to a hospital merger in Ohio is one example of federal officials' heightened scrutiny and concern that healthcare consolidation might drive prices and hurt quality of care, according to a New York Times report.

A merger between ProMedica Healthcare in Toledo and St. Luke's Hospital in Maumee has been put under "a virtual microscope," according to the report, as FTC lawyers have taken hundreds of hours of testimony to show the merger would stifle competition. Witnesses, including insurance executives and employers, have testified that Toledo has some of the highest health care costs in the state. They also say that ProMedica's rates are among the highest in the Toledo area, while St. Luke's is a low-cost, high-quality provider.

A federal district judge in Toledo issued a preliminary injunction in March, stopping the merger in its tracks until the FTC held a full administrative trial on the merits of the case. ProMedica officials said the merger would bolster quality care at St. Luke's, as it would provide capital to adopt electronic health records and standardize care through clinical protocols. They also say the FTC's challenge goes against the major themes of healthcare reform.

Still, the FTC is investigating more than a dozen consolidation arrangements, according to the report. The merger between Phoebe Putney Health System and Palmyra Hospital in Atlanta has attracted their scrutiny, and the FTC has expressed "serious concerns" over plans by a Spokane, Wash.-hospital to acquire competing cardiologist groups.

Related Articles on the FTC and Hospital Mergers:

Ohio System Says FTC Challenge of Merger 'Inconsistent' With Call for Integration
Georgia's Phoebe Putney Health Says FTC is "Meddling" in Transaction
FTC Approves Merger Review of Georgia's Piedmont Healthcare, Henry Medical Center

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