North Carolina's attorney general is asking Atrium Health and UNC Health Care to provide more information on their merger plans.
AG Josh Stein said in a letter (PDF) sent to both healthcare organizations that his office doesn't have enough information to work with as it reviews the merger deal. Atrium—the new name of Carolinas HealthCare System—and UNC last met with Stein to discuss the merger in August, shortly before the announcement, according to the letter.
State officials want more details on how the merger between Atrium and UNC could impact healthcare prices for patients in North Carolina, and if the lack of competition would cause harm, Stein said.
"Experience cautions that large-scale healthcare system mergers are not often in the public interest," Stein wrote. "The state and the public have a right to know the facts behind your proposal."
Stein's office sent a list of civil demands (PDF) to be answered by the health systems by March 16 alongside the letter.
Stein's request is not uncommon, Barak Richman, a law professor at Duke University, told The Charlotte Observer. Requests for additional information can be benign, Richman said, but may also be a sign of genuine concern from state attorneys.
"This is an enormous merger that is fraught with lots of implications for the health and finances of millions of North Carolinians, so it ought not be surprising that it has attracted the AG's attention and concern," Richman told the newspaper.
Stein said in an announcement that he intends to ensure that a merger would not increase patient costs.
The merger talks between Atrium and UNC are still ongoing. The deal, if it goes through, would create one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the country, employing more than 85,000 people.
The two health systems said that alignment would allow them to negotiate with payers more effectively, saving millions in healthcare costs, and would increase access to healthcare in rural areas.
The two providers had initially announced that they planned to be working as a joint entity by the end of 2017. In the new system, current Atrium CEO Gene Woods will continue as CEO, while UNC Health Care CEO William Roper, M.D., will become executive chair.
Another wrinkle is Atrium's plans to merge with Georgia-based Navicent Health. The system announced the deal shortly after its rebranding, and it's unclear if that deal will impact the UNC merger.