Pending hospital deals in New England draw scrutiny over patient costs

Hopsital mergers and acquisitions aren't new on the East Coast but regulators now wonder how potential hospital mergers in New England will impact patient costs.

The New Haven Register reported that there were seven total transactions in Connecticut involving hospital affiliations and partnerships between 2009 and last year, compared to four in the prior decade. Another partnership deal involving Tenet and Yale New Haven Health System is in the works. Altogether, more than half of the state's 29 hospitals are involved in some sort of formal system or partnership.

But hospitals that are affiliated tend to charge more for common procedures than standalone facilities, according to the New Haven Register. Treatments for renal failure were about 7 percent higher at affiiated hospitals, with a similar price bump for pacemaker implantations.

In the third quarter of last year, there were 267 new hospitals deals and a 16 percent rise in transactions nationwide. And such deal-making raised concerns about prices increasing faster than efficiencies and quality.

In Massachusetts, a pending takeover of South Shore Hospital by Partners Healthcare would drive up insurer costs by between 1.3 percent and 1.5 percent, according to the state's Health Policy Commission, the Boston Globe reported in an opinion piece. That panel recommended against the acquisition, but does not have the regulatory power to stop it.

Partly as a result, Partners agreed to negotiate with Attorney General Martha Coakley on potentially modifying terms of the deal, the Boston Business Journal reported. Partners won't close the transaction in the meantime.

Lawmakers in Connecticut will also consider ways to better assess the impact of mergers and consolidation.

"Hospital planning is not something we've gotten our arms around in this state," Connecticut House Speaker Brendan Sharkey told the New Haven Register. "We need to develop a comprehensive approach to this. It's critical that we look at the (review) process."

To learn more:
- read the New Haven Register article
- check out the Boston Globe piece
- here's the Boston Business Journal article