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West Virginia hospital merger clears regulatory hurdle, still faces FTC opposition

The West Virginia Health Care Authority has approved the proposed merger of Cabell Huntington (W.Va.) Hospital and Huntington-based St. Mary's Medical Center.

The state issued a certificate of need, allowing 303-bed Cabell Huntington and 393-bed St. Mary's to join forces, according to a WCHS news report.

The transaction still has a major hurdle to clear before it is finalized. In November, the Federal Trade Commission authorized action to block the merger. The FTC alleges the two hospitals — located just 3 miles apart — are each other's closest competitor for health plans and patients, and that the acquisition would substantially lessen competition for patients and for inclusion in health plan networks.

However, a bill that has made its way to West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's desk would allow the hospitals to avoid the FTC's challenge to the transaction. The legislation would exempt actions of the West Virginia Health Care Authority and any actions of hospitals and health systems under the authority's jurisdiction from state and federal antitrust laws.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey expects the governor to make a decision on the legislation within the next few weeks, according to the report.

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