FTC changes course in Ga. an­titrust dis­pute

Modern Healthcare - - REGIONAL NEWS - —Bob Her­man

The Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion has with­drawn its agree­ment re­solv­ing a high-pro­file an­titrust dis­pute with Phoebe Put­ney Health Sys­tem. The com­mis­sion will in­stead pur­sue its ear­lier am­bi­tion to un­wind a hos­pi­tal deal that it ar­gued all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court cre­ated an il­le­gal mo­nop­oly in Al­bany, Ga.

Last year, the FTC ac­cepted a pro­posed con­sent agree­ment that would have al­lowed Phoebe Put­ney to keep Palmyra Med­i­cal Cen­ter, now named Phoebe North Cam­pus in Al­bany, un­der cer­tain con­di­tions. For ex­am­ple, Phoebe Put­ney would have to no­tify the feds ev­ery time it wanted to buy another fa­cil­ity or physi­cian prac­tice for the next decade.

The FTC chal­lenged the not-for-profit health sys­tem’s $200 mil­lion ac­qui­si­tion of Palmyra from HCA for sev­eral years on the grounds it gave Phoebe Put­ney a mo­nop­oly in Al­bany and would lead to higher prices. The gov­ern­ment won its case in the Supreme Court in 2013, rev­ers­ing an ap­pel­late court rul­ing that said Phoebe Put­ney and its par­ent hos­pi­tal au­thor­ity were ex­empt from fed­eral an­titrust re­view.

Both sides agreed to the con­sent or­der last sum­mer after the FTC con­cluded Ge­or­gia’s cer­tifi­cate-of-need laws pre­cluded Phoebe Put­ney from di­vest­ing Palmyra. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments re­leased this month, Ge­or­gia’s CON laws may not be an im­ped­i­ment.

The pro­posed deal al­lowed for a 30-day pub­lic com­ment pe­riod. The FTC ul­ti­mately learned that split­ting up Phoebe North from the health sys­tem with a sep­a­rate hos­pi­tal li­cense would not re­quire CON re­view and ap­proval as pre­vi­ously thought. In ad­di­tion, the FTC found out there may be a new po­ten­tial buyer for Phoebe North.

The case now moves to an ad­min­is­tra­tive court, with the ini­tial hear­ing set for Feb. 4, 2015.

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