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Health Costs

It’s official: Phoebe settlement is off

The Federal Trade Commission announced Friday that it has rejected a proposed settlement agreement with Phoebe Putney Health System over the latter’s 2011 merger with a rival Albany hospital.

The FTC and Phoebe tentatively reached the agreement last year, appearing to put an end to what was already a long-running, complicated legal dispute. But the federal agency has been signaling for months that it might not take the deal after all.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

The agency’s decision to reject the settlement revives the high-profile regulatory fight between Phoebe Putney and the FTC. The matter will now return to an administrative court, where a hearing is expected over the feds’ antitrust allegations against Phoebe.

The federal agency has contended for three years that Phoebe’s acquisition of Palmyra Medical Center violated antitrust laws, reducing competition and potentially raising prices for consumers.

“We’ve argued all along that this merger would create a monopoly in Albany that would harm consumers and employers in the region,” Deborah Feinstein, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, said in a statement Friday. “Meaningful structural relief is needed to restore competition to this marketplace.”

Phoebe Putney officials called the FTC’s rejection of the deal disappointing. full story

Key activist group sees flaws in state health plan

Last week, when upcoming changes in the state employee and teacher health plan were announced, they drew a generally positive response.

Healthcare CostMembers learned that the 2015 plan would include an increased choice of insurers, which was welcome, and officials presented information showing that many members would see no premium increase.

But after studying the proposed rates in greater detail, a group representing teachers, employees and retirees is voicing concern. It says many of the new options will be unaffordable for members looking to switch from their current plans. full story

State health plan choices for 2015 draw praise

Many state employees and teachers will see no increase in their health insurance premiums next year under rates approved by a state agency’s board Thursday.

The State Health Benefit Plan members will have choices among plans offered by three health insurers, rather than a single insurance company this year.

The SHBP covers 650,000 state employees, teachers, other school personnel, retirees and dependents. With those numbers, the members of the health plan have proved to be a potent political force in this election year.

Sarah Lesley and her daughters joined a Capitol rally in February against the design of the state health plan.

Changes in the health plan that started Jan. 1 triggered fierce criticism from members, who complained about a lack of choice of insurance plans and higher health care costs. A Facebook group (Teachers Rally to Advocate for Georgia Insurance Choices, or TRAGIC) attracted thousands of members. Teachers and state employees rallied at the state Capitol, protesting the new health plan design.

TRAGIC members Thursday praised the wider health plan options.

“I’m glad to see we have a choice,” said a member of the group and a retired Marietta teacher, Julie Jarrett, after the Department of Community Health board vote Thursday. (Community Health oversees the state health plan.)

Many SHBP members had trouble understanding the 2014 Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) and how it worked, Jarrett added.

“I’m happy they’re going to educate all the members what the HRA really is,’’ Jarrett said Thursday. “They didn’t do that last year.” full story

Merger shows health IT still blooming in Georgia

Seven years ago, Baha Zeidan and two of his Valdosta colleagues entered a local competition for business plans, looking to build on their idea for a health care software startup.

At the time, the three young men, all graduates of Valdosta State University, were working at a medical lab company in the South Georgia city.

The group saw a need for better software for the health care industry, which still was bogged down with paper medical records.

Baha Zeidan

Baha Zeidan

The Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce awarded Zeidan, Douglas Swords and Daniel Henry the first prize of $15,000 for their business plan. The contest award also came with legal and other services.

“That was the start of the company,’’ Zeidan said Wednesday.

Azalea Health, launched in 2008 in Valdosta, “the Azalea City,” focused on providing electronic health records and billing software for physicians, along with software for laboratories.

On Tuesday, seven years after the contest award, the company announced a merger with Alpharetta-based simplifyMD, another private health IT firm. The merged company will have 70 employees and will have offices in Valdosta, Alpharetta and Macon as well as in Gainesville, Fla. full story

Plan for new trauma center not welcomed by all

Hospital chain HCA’s push to have its Augusta hospital designated as a trauma center has unsettled leaders in the state’s hospital industry.

A trauma center is a medical facility that’s specially equipped and staffed to treat seriously injured people. Georgia authorizes four levels of such centers, depending on their capabilities.

The critics of the HCA effort point to the trauma center growth in the Florida market. Such centers in the Sunshine State are charging a “response fee” – essentially an entry fee into the hospital – for each trauma case that averages more than $10,000 per patient, according to a Tampa Bay Times investigation in March.

Doctors Hospital

 

HCA’s Doctors Hospital said through a spokesman that if it receives trauma center status, it plans to set its trauma activation fee at about $9,900 for each such case at the Augusta facility. The HCA initiative in Georgia was first reported by Tom Corwin of the Augusta Chronicle.

The two current trauma centers in Augusta, Georgia Regents Medical Center and Trinity Hospital, said they charge activation fees of $1,949 and zero, respectively, for a comparable Level III trauma patient, the Chronicle reported.

Nashville-based HCA’s bid for trauma designation has drawn strong opposition from the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, an organization of nonprofit hospitals. full story

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