Hospital Merger Opponents Urge Healey to File Lawsuit
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- Opponents of a planned merger that would blend Lahey Health and Beth Israel Deaconess into a new 13-hospital system are looking to Attorney General Maura Healey to intervene as they continue to raise concerns about potential impacts on the cost of care, community hospitals and minority populations.
“The attorney general’s office is looking into it. No, let’s be more proactive,” Lawrence City Councilor Jeovanny Rodriguez said at a rally Thursday outside the State House. “Let’s have a lawsuit to stop the merge immediately.”
Addressing the crowd in Spanish, Rodriguez said it is time for politicians to make decisions that benefit the people and not corporations.
The merger, which Lahey and Beth Israel officials have said will lower costs and allow for better coordinated care, has won the approval of the state Public Health Council. A separate state agency, the Health Policy Commission, plans to release its final cost and market impact review of the deal next Thursday.
The commission’s preliminary review, released in July, said the consolidation would give the new system greater bargaining leverage to obtain higher prices from commercial insurers, potentially increasing health care spending by an annual $138 million to $191 million.
David Spackman, general counsel and senior vice president for governmental relations at Lahey Health, told the Boston City Council in April that the hospitals are undergoing what “may well be the most intensive review of any consolidation of the country.”
“When you look at the concern on the part of various communities as to whether this will impact their care, it will -- for the better,” he said at the time. “We’re going to be lower-priced, we’re going to be high-quality, we’re going to be able to connect their care through every portion of their trip through the medical system. We’ve done it before, we will do it again, but together we will do it better.”
A March staff recommendation from the Department of Public Health concluded the deal would “likely improve health outcomes and quality of life” for patients “through increased access to high-value healthcare and decreased consumer cost-sharing.”
Opponents, organized as the Make Health Care Affordable Coalition, argue the new system and its greater clout would bring higher costs that disproportionately affect low-income people and communities of color, and would harm community hospitals that could not compete with a system so large.
After Thursday’s rally, the coalition members planned to deliver petitions, which they said were signed by more than 8,000 Massachusetts residents, to Healey, Gov. Charlie Baker and the Department of Public Health.
“We’re really demanding that they use everything within their power even if that is the attorney general needing to do a lawsuit,” Rep. Russell Holmes said. “We want to make sure that whatever she has, if she’s being restricted to stop the merger with a normal process, we want to say that it’s important that she now, just like she’s suing President Trump, we want her to now sue all of the folks at BI and make it so this does not happen.”
Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, said there is a “tiering” phenomenon happening across the economy, making the comparison to the ride-for-hire app Uber’s different service options -- a more costly livery car through Uber Black, or less-direct trips in a driver’s personal car, shared with other riders, through the cheaper Uber Pool.
“That is the exact same thing that’s happening here, where you are going to have so that folks are able to pick one of these two large systems, and then put it on the back of our health centers,” he said.
The Health Policy Commission has previously concluded that the merger would leave more than half of the inpatient care provided across Massachusetts in the hands of just two systems, the new Beth Israel/Lahey system and Partners HealthCare, which currently provides 27 percent of inpatient care.
City councilors Domingo Dominguez of Salem and Brian De Peña of Lawrence also participated in the rally.