ABINGDON, VA (WJHL) – The Federal Trade Commission was in the Tri-Cities Thursday to say why it opposes the merger between Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System.
The FTC met with the Southwest Virginia Health Authority, the group responsible for Virginia’s oversight into the proposed merger. The authority decided to postpone Thursday’s meeting until next month.
Thursday we heard from FTC staff for the first time one on-one-on their opposition to a potential hospital merger recommendation to the Virginia Commissioner of Health.
This as MSHA and Wellmont continue to fight for a merger they say is crucial to our area’s healthcare future.
The bottom line message from FTC staff to members of the SWVA Health Authority. While the authority legally can give permission for MSHA and Wellmont to merge, they should not.
“We do not believe that the proported benefits of the cooperative agreement outweigh the disadvantages of eliminating competition,” Attorney for the FTC Office of Policy Planning, Stephanie Wilkinson said.
The SWVA Health Authority now has nearly two more weeks to absorb information and comments from both Health System CEOs as well as FTC staff as they work on a potential recommendation to the Virginia State Health Commissioner.
“Even though it takes a little bit longer, to come to their conclusion it certainly gives us additional time to answer any further questions that they may have,” CEO of Wellmont Health System, Bart Hove said.
At Thursday’s meeting the authority spent time listening to the commitments laid out in the application.
“We’re making commitments to make sure emergency services are provided everywhere throughout the region, we’re making commitments to spend $140 million in expending specialty care access,” CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance, Alan Levine said.
Commitments that the FTC staff still feel are vague and unenforceable.
“We continue to believe that they would be difficult to implement, enforce and monitor and we don’t believe they will replicate the benefits of competition,” Wilkinson said.
Levine said the commitments are hardly vague repeating what he’s said from the start that merging will improve local health care.
“An out of market acquisition of either of our health systems will result in more job losses and higher prices,” Levine said.
The authority plans to meet November 7th and they have until the 9th to decide whether to move forward with a recommendation.
It is unclear if the FTC will be at the November 7th meeting. The final public hearing on the merger in Tennessee is coming up on November 21st in Johnson City.
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