In this new healthcare environment, achieving greater degrees of clinical integration is critical to achieving better patient outcomes. It does that by delivering higher quality care, and by making the medical system less expensive, more efficient and easier to navigate for patients and providers.
Hospitals in communities across the country are trying to create these types of partnerships. But outdated regulatory barriers, including confusing and stifling antitrust policies that fail to recognize the changing competitive dynamic in the market for healthcare services, stand in the way.
It is not logical for the government to expect healthcare organizations to achieve radical change without removing barriers. Achieving the CMS’ fundamental aims of better health, better care and lower costs will require innovative approaches. Outdated regulatory barriers are inconsistent with current and future demands in healthcare—and could result in organizations needing to reduce services. It is imperative that regulatory agencies such as the FTC seek new and innovative approaches that allow new ideas to move forward with necessary constraints.
There are solutions. For example, Christine Varney, assistant attorney general of the antitrust division for the U.S. Justice Department, has acknowledged the potential for a new approach to evaluating mergers. This approach would not be an unequivocal “yes” or “no” to a merger, but a willingness to compromise and allow an organization to partner in the best interests of the community, with constraints against certain effects with regulatory oversight in the courts.
With this idea in mind, ProMedica believes the FTC should consider a community commitment agreement that will allow the joinder with St. Luke’s to continue with appropriate safeguards and regulatory oversight. This approach would enable the combined organizations to integrate in ways that will achieve the CMS goals while still protecting the public interest. It is an approach that could serve as a model for other communities nationwide and deserves strong consideration versus stifling opposition.
There are many benefits for the community from collaboration between organizations such as ProMedica and St. Luke’s, yet the FTC continues to use outdated standards that no longer apply in this next generation of healthcare. The result of its legal action forecasts a chilling future for collaboration in the national healthcare community. On the other hand, a willingness by the FTC to take a new approach in how it evaluates mergers could go a long way to achieving that new, brighter day in healthcare.
Randy Oostra is president and CEO of ProMedica, Toledo, Ohio.