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Partners mergers would increase costs for Massachusetts consumers, insurers say

The Massachusetts Association of Health Plans — which represents 17 plans — has expressed concern that Boston-based Partners HealthCare's proposed acquisitions of South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Mass., and Hallmark Health System in Melrose, Mass., would lead to higher costs for consumers, according to a report from The Boston Globe.

In public comments submitted to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, MAHP President and CEO Lora Pellegrini wrote a tentative settlement between Partners and Ms. Coakley's office allowing the completion of the mergers would make it hard for insurers to contain increasing premiums.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts — which isn't part of MAHP and is the state's largest insurer — told the Globe that, although the insurer doesn't oppose the settlement, the attorney general should "have a robust monitoring process to ensure effective compliance with the terms of the agreement." Partners spokesman Rich Copp dismissed the comments from MAHP as serving "their own self-interest," according to the report.

Monday marked the end of a comment period for the settlement between Ms. Coakely's office and Partners. Under the original tentative settlement, Partners would have to limit future price increases across its network to the rate of general inflation through 2020. The settlement would also limit Partners' joint contracting with commercial payers. Ms. Coakley — who is also a Democratic gubernatorial candidate — has faced criticism from political rivals, economists and other healthcare organizations for striking an agreement with Partners rather than suing the system to stop the transactions, according to the report.

In July, Massachusetts Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet L. Sanders ruled the settlement's court approval would be delayed because of the Health Policy Commission's initial report on the Partners-Hallmark merger. The next hearing concerning the settlement is Sept. 29.

Earlier this month, the Globe reported Ms. Coakley's office is renegotiating the settlement following a  final report from the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission finding that Partners' takeover of Hallmark would be anticompetitive and raise spending on medical care by $15.5 million to $23 million per year. Partners and Hallmark have said the merger will actually decrease medical costs by $21 million annually over five years because of more efficient care delivery. Ms. Coakley's office didn't indicate which changes it would try to make to the agreement.


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