The New Hampshire attorney general last week gave antitrust clearance to the proposed acquisition of Nashua-based Matthew Thornton Health Plan by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, based in Brookline, Mass.
But the approval agreement was loaded with provisions barring exclusive relationships with primary-care physicians associated with the Hitchcock Clinic, a dominant multispecialty group practice. Hitchcock is part of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center organization that's selling Matthew Thornton to Harvard Pilgrim.
Competing HMOs were among the objectors to the original acquisition proposal, which sought to retain the Hitchcock Clinic's exclusive relationship with its new owner (Sept. 25, p. 38). The opposition had held up a ruling on the transaction since June 1994.
The physician agreements raised antitrust issues concerning "tying up the services of all the Hitchcock Clinic's primary-care physicians for an extended period of time," said Walter Maroney, senior assistant attorney general.
The attorney general's office also was concerned that the money involved in the acquisition-$30 million initially, plus as much as $25 million during the next 15 years-"could be used to purchase more physician practices, effectively taking them out of the market for affiliation with Matthew Thornton's competitors."
The proposed settlement still must be reviewed by the state insurance commission.