The Federal Trade Commission moved Friday to block a proposed merger between Illinois systems Advocate Health Care and NorthShore University HealthSystem—the third hospital deal the FTC has moved to block in the past six weeks. The Illinois systems immediately said they will fight back.
Advocate CEO Jim Skogsbergh said the systems offered to enter into an agreement to address the FTC's concerns about the deal's potential effects on prices. “In interviews with the commission in the last 10 days it became pretty clear to us our message was falling on deaf ears,” Skogsbergh said.
The merged system would have a combined 15 acute-care hospital campuses, a children's hospital and a large group of employed and affiliated doctors in the Chicago area.
In an administrative complaint, the FTC alleged the deal would allow the system to control more than 50% of general acute-care inpatient hospital services in Chicago's North Shore suburbs.
“This merger is likely to significantly increase the combined system's bargaining power with health plans, which in turn will harm consumers by bringing about higher prices and lower quality,” Debbie Feinstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition, said in a statement.
NorthShore, at the time called Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, was the target of a pivotal FTC challenge a decade ago. The government retrospectively challenged its 2000 acquisition of a third hospital, and laid the groundwork for a string of successful hospital cases over the past several years.
The FTC has authorized its staff to ask a federal judge to block the Advocate-NorthShore deal pending administrative proceedings scheduled to begin May 24 of next year. Either party may appeal the outcome to the federal commissioners themselves, and a final decision from them will likely take at least a year. At that point, the parties could appeal the decision in federal court, and the case could go to either the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.