FTC pauses its chal­lenge of W.Va. hospital merger

Modern Healthcare - - REGIONAL NEWS - —Lisa Schencker

The Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion will hold off on its chal­lenge of a West Vir­ginia hospital merger while it ex­am­ines a new state law that aims to pro­tect the deal from fed­eral an­titrust scrutiny.

The FTC’s or­der is­sued last week de­lays for 30 days ad­min­is­tra­tive law pro­ceed­ings over Ca­bell Hunt­ing­ton Hospital’s pro­posed ac­qui­si­tion of St. Mary’s Med­i­cal Cen­ter; both are in Hunt­ing­ton. A hear­ing be­fore an ad­min­is­tra­tive law judge had been sched­uled for April 5.

The or­der fol­lows the re­cent sign­ing of a new West Vir­ginia law de­signed to shield hospital merg­ers from state and fed­eral an­titrust re­view, as­sum­ing they get cer­tain other state ap­provals. Some spec­u­lated the new law would cause the FTC to drop its chal­lenge to the West Vir­ginia merger al­to­gether, and that the new law could in­spire more states to pass sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion.

“With­draw­ing this mat­ter from ad­ju­di­ca­tion for a short pe­riod of time … will give us an op­por­tu­nity to eval­u­ate the im­pact, if any, of the state leg­is­la­tion with­out any ad­verse ef­fects on com­pe­ti­tion or con­sumer in­ter­ests,” ac­cord­ing to the or­der.

The FTC took ac­tion in Novem­ber to block the merger, say­ing it would cre­ate a near mo­nop­oly on general acute-care in­pa­tient hospital ser­vices and out­pa­tient sur­gi­cal ser­vices that would likely lead to higher prices and lower qual­ity. The two hos­pi­tals’ lead­ers have said they be­lieve the FTC chal­lenge “mis­reads the highly com­pet­i­tive land­scape” across their mar­ket, which in­cludes parts of Ken­tucky, Ohio and West Vir­ginia. They say the merger would help their com­mu­nity.

The FTC’s Wash­ing­ton of­fices.

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