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Wellmont-MSHA COPA still on hold

Hank Hayes • Jan 13, 2017 at 11:19 AM

NASHVILLE — Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance received notice Friday that their request for additional time to supplement their application for a Certificate of Public Advantage (COPA) was granted by the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH).

Approval of the COPA is required for the proposed merger of Mountain States and Wellmont to proceed.

The merged system would be called Ballad Health.

“Our objective is to ensure the record in both states reflects our vision for the improved health of our region and that the record strongly supports a positive outcome,” Alan Levine, president and CEO of Mountain States, said in a release. “This is so important, and we are committed to leaving no doubt about our intent. This is not just about a merger. This is about a region coming together to make strides in solving our health care challenges.”

In a statement, TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner noted: “Due to the size of the region, the size of the population impacted and the involvement of two states, this is an unprecedented proposal, not only in Tennessee but across the country. The Tennessee Department of Health takes its role in this process very seriously on behalf of Tennesseans. The applicants have requested to make additional submissions to the application and have requested that the department withdraw its decision in September deeming the application complete. Based on the unique nature of this application, it is appropriate to accept and consider additional information and grant the applicants’ request. Therefore, the application is currently deemed not complete, and the 120-day deadline to act on the application has not yet started.”

A similar merger application, filed as a Cooperative Agreement, awaits action by the Virginia Department of Health.

If the merger happens, whether the federal government will take court action against it remains to be seen.

Last November, Federal Trade Commission staff submitted a comment to the Tennessee Department of Health that opposed issuing a COPA to Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System. Staff of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of Policy Planning expressed concern that the merger of Mountain States and Wellmont would lead to significantly less competition for health care services in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.

“Together, the hospitals would have a dominant market share of inpatient services and a significant market share in several outpatient and physician-specialty service lines in the 21-county area they propose to serve,” an FTC document said. “When hospital mergers substantially reduce competition, prices for health care services increase significantly and the incentive to maintain or improve the quality of care decreases.”

Dreyzehner, in his statement, agreed the COPA would result in less competition for health care services in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

The two health care systems stressed an integrated health system would be a significant step forward for patient care, wellness, affordability and health education in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

They pledged to invest in high-level specialty services, conduct a comprehensive regional health needs assessment, work to improve access to substance abuse and mental health services and work with academic institutions, such as East Tennessee State University, to strengthen the pipeline of physicians and to attract research jobs.

For more go to www.becomingbettertogether.org.

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