The merger of the only two hospitals in Albany has been a done deal since December. But now a Huffington Post article has raised the possibility of yet another legal challenge to the merger.
The Federal Trade Commission’s chairman, in a visit to the Post’s newsroom, said his agency is considering a Supreme Court challenge to the acquisition.
“If this hospital merger is allowed to go through, it’s going to give a blueprint for how to design the most anti-competitive outcome that will raise health care costs for every consumer in rural areas and small cities, and that will be a huge problem for all of us,” said Jon Leibowitz, the FTC chairman, in the Thursday article.
The combination of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Palmyra Medical Center was completed in December.
The FTC had fiercely contested the Albany-Dougherty County Hospital Authority’s $195 million purchase of Palmyra. But a federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled in favor of the hospital authority in December.
The federal agency had argued that deal was anti-competitive and would raise health costs. The FTC, in an October hearing, had argued before a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that while the hospital authority is technically making the acquisition, Phoebe Putney Health System will be running the acquired facility, then owned by HCA.
But the appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that the deal was protected under the state-action doctrine – that the hospital authority is a government entity and thus immune from antitrust law.
The court, though, actually accepted the FTC’s argument about diminished competition in the South Georgia city.
Phoebe officials told the Albany Herald in a Thursday article that the FTC would be wasting taxpayer dollars in continuing the legal battle.
“Their own attorneys said early on that this was a long shot, but apparently that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to spend tax dollars fighting what has been affirmed by two different courts, and prompting us to spend millions as well,’’ Tommy Chambless, Phoebe Putney vice president of legal affairs, told the Herald.
Chambless added that the merger had sought to resolve a hospital capacity problem. The Phoebe hospital had “simply run out of space,’’ he said, ‘’and so we have turned to a facility in town who has space.’’