The Justice Department's heaviest hitters are watching closely a federal judge's decision on their effort to block the proposed consolidation of the only two hospitals in Dubuque, Iowa.
The nation's top antitrust official was present for closing arguments in
the case on Dec. 5. Anne Bingaman, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's antitrust division, was accompanied by Steven Sunshine, a deputy assistant attorney general.
"The Justice Department took this pretty seriously, with their top officials at the hearing," said David Ettinger, a Detroit attorney representing the hospitals.
U.S. District Judge Michael Melloy is expected to rule in the next month on the government's effort to block the proposed collaborative agreement between 320-bed Mercy Health Center and 124-bed Finley Hospital.
A key issue in the case is whether the government can show a substantial "anticompetitive effect."
The Justice Department has viewed the collaboration as a merger and said it would create a monopoly. The hospitals, which are both profitable, argued that they will get plenty of competition from hospitals in four states. (Oct. 17, p. 18).
A partnership agreement was signed in February by the hospitals' parent companies, Sisters of Mercy Health Corp. of Farmington Hills, Mich., and the Finley Tri-States Health Group of Dubuque. It would allow each to maintain its own assets and identity.
"There's more than enough regional competition to keep the hospitals competitive," Mr. Ettinger said. The hospitals cite competition from as far as Rockford, Ill., Madison, Wis. and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Justice Department attorneys and their representatives were unavailable for comment.