FTC could discuss action if Wellmont, MSHA merger approved

(WJHL) – An attorney for the Federal Trade Commission said Thursday night that the agency could take some kind of action should a merger between Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System be approved in Tennessee and Virginia.

The two hospital systems that operate in both Tennessee and Virginia have been competitors for years but system leaders proposed last year to merge in order to stay financially stable. FTC officials have opposed the merger, claiming it would limit competition and citing a lack of clear reasoning as to how the arrangement would keep costs down, among other things.

Leaders of both Wellmont and MSHA have said the merger will improve local health care.

The following is joint statement from Wellmont and Mountain States:

As we articulated in our response to the FTC’s staff submission, the doctrine of State Action Immunity, under which we are operating, has long been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States. Our proposal is modeled after successful actions in other communities.  While the FTC has the ability to take whatever action they deem appropriate, Mountain States and Wellmont believe a cooperative agreement, which falls squarely within the law, is the most appropriate solution for our community.”

The departments of health in Tennessee and Virginia are in the process of determining if the merger should take place.

Stephanie Wilkinson, an attorney for the FTC’s office of policy planning, said her agency has an ongoing, non-public investigation into the merger proposal.

“Whatever happens at the state level, the commission would evaluate and decide whether or not to challenge the merger or take some other action,” Wilkinson said after a meeting of the Southwest Virginia Health Authority on Thursday night.

The authority, which is charged with evaluating the merger’s efficacy, decided on Thursday to delay a vote on if the merger should be recommended to the state health commissioner.

But leaders of both Wellmont and Mountain States have said the merger will actually improve local health care.

The health authority will meet again on Nov. 7, and must decide on a recommendation by Nov. 9.

Another meeting in Tennessee regarding the merger is planned for Nov. 21 in Johnson City.




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