FTC can't block Advocate-NorthShore merger, judge rules

An Illinois federal judge has denied the Federal Trade Commission's request to block the merger of Downers Grove, Ill.-based Advocate Health Care and Evanston, Ill.-based NorthShore University HealthSystem.

In a brief order issued Tuesday, U.S. Northern District Court Judge Jorge Alonso said the government did not provide enough evidence that the partnership would harm competition in the region. The judge's full opinion remains under seal, but a version will be made available to the public after the health systems and the FTC meet later this week about redacting information from the full opinion, according to Crain's Chicago Business.

Advocate President and CEO Jim Skogsbergh praised the judge's decision. "Judge Alonso's decision reaffirmed what we have wholeheartedly believed since day one — this merger is a big win for consumers and for healthcare in our country as the shift to value takes hold," he said.

In 2014, Advocate and NorthShore unveiled plans to come together and create a new health system called Advocate NorthShore Health Partners, which would include 16 hospitals for more than 4,000 hospital beds, employ more than 45,000 workers and serve more than 3 million patients annually. After a 15-month review, the FTC opposed the merger in December.

Both sides presented testimony in April over whether the FTC's request for a preliminary injunction to halt the transaction should be granted. The FTC argued the merger would have anti-competitive effects. However, Advocate and NorthShore claim the merger will not raise healthcare prices for consumers or reduce health insurers' bargaining power.

The judge's decision to deny the FTC's request to block the Advocate-NorthShore merger comes on the tails of another FTC loss. In May, a Pennsylvania judge denied the FTC's request for a preliminary injunction to halt the merger of Penn State Milton S. Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center and Harrisburg, Pa.-based PinnacleHealth System. The judge found that the government failed to meet its burden to show it was likely to ultimately succeed on the merits of its antitrust claim. The FTC is appealing that decision.

The FTC could appeal the judge's decision regarding the Advocate-NorthShore merger. On Tuesday, Debbie Feinstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition, said the FTC is considering its options in the case.

More articles on antitrust issues:

Appeals court vacates $30M BCBS antitrust settlement
Anthem, Cigna bicker behind closed doors, putting antitrust approval on the line: 3 things to know

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