Giving a local government the power to buy a hospital is not the same thing as granting it the authority to establish a regional monopoly on acute care, lawyers for the Federal Trade Commission argued before the U.S. Supreme Court last week as they tried to undo a $200 million hospital acquisition in Georgia.
But lawyers defending the year-old purchase of Palmyra Medical Center by a Dougherty County agency said the Georgia Hospital Authorities Act can be read to grant monopoly powers to public hospitals. The state has many rural counties, and virtually any acquisition in a small healthcare market has foreseeable anti-competitive effects, the hospitals' attorney told the Supreme Court justices Nov. 26.
That was the same logic endorsed last year by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which blessed the acquisition of the 102-bed hospital in Albany, Ga., by the public hospital authority that also owns the other hospital in town, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. The court acknowledged the deal would create a likely monopoly, but said the state had transferred its antitrust immunity to the Albany-Dougherty County Hospital Authority.