West Virginia hospital mergers now off limits to FTC: 6 things to know

A new law in West Virginia exempts the 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.

Here are six things to know about the new law.

1. The legislation was proposed after the Federal Trade Commission authorized action to block Cabell Huntington (W.Va.) Hospital and Huntington-based St. Mary's Medical Center from merging. The FTC alleges the merger would substantially lessen competition for patients and inclusion in health plan networks.

2. To get around the FTC's challenge, West Virginia lawmakers proposed legislation allowing hospital deals approved by the West Virginia Health Care Authority and the state's attorney general to avoid state and federal antitrust laws.

3. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the legislation into law Friday, and it is effective immediately, according to the Herald-Dispatch.

4. Last week, the West Virginia Health Care Authority issued a certificate of need, allowing 303-bed Cabell Huntington and 393-bed St. Mary's to join forces. Under the new law, the deal still needs approval from the state attorney general to move forward.

5. There is a hearing set for April 5 for Cabell Huntington to dispute the FTC's claims. It is unclear how the new law will affect that hearing, according to the Herald-Dispatch.

6. This is not the first time a state has attempted to duck FTC oversight. In 2013, the FTC won a Supreme Court case on the issue. In that lawsuit, Phoebe Putney Health System in Albany, Ga., argued its purchase of Palmyra Medical Center in Albany was immune to FTC scrutiny because Georgia law authorized county hospitals to make acquisitions. The high court held there was no affirmatively expressed policy in Georgia that allowed hospital authorities to make acquisitions that substantially lessen competition.

More articles on hospital mergers:

NorthShore CEO: FTC gerrymandered hospital market to oppose merger
Akron General CEO says Cleveland Clinic merger saved hospital

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