Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt may intervene in the antitrust investigation of the Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. acquisition of Healthtrust, arguing that Columbia/HCA would be good for the state's consumers.
"We're very interested in this whole situation," said Robin Riggs, general counsel for the Republican governor. He said the governor would decide in a couple of weeks what role to take.
"We have a very narrow marketplace with only one or two major players," Mr. Riggs said. "Any player that would be willing to come in and provide competition we would be interested in."
State involvement in the case would be significant because of the lack of such involvement earlier this year when the Federal Trade Commission challenged Healthtrust's bid for Holy Cross Health System, Salt Lake City. Nashville, Tenn.-based Healthtrust spent more than $1 million in legal fees contending that its acquisition of the three-hospital system would not be anti-competitive.
The argument centers on Intermountain Health Care, a Salt Lake City-based system of 19 not-for-profit hospitals. Intermountain is estimated to have a 50% share of the Salt Lake market. Healthtrust attorneys unsuccessfully argued that Columbia/HCA would turn Holy Cross into a more viable competitor.
Healthtrust completed the $125 million purchase of Holy Cross in August. However, the FTC challenge forced Healthtrust to agree to sell the system's key hospital, 200-bed Holy Cross Hospital of Salt Lake City (Aug. 22, p. 7).
"We may have just missed one, or maybe not," Mr. Riggs said when asked why the Columbia/HCA merger is different from Healthtrust's. "It's more timing than anything else, I suppose."
Columbia/HCA now has two hospitals in the Salt Lake area; it would have eight with the Healthtrust acquisition.
The Utah attorney general's office also is determining its position on the investigation.