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FTC puts W.Va. hospital-merger challenge on hold

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Cabell Huntington Hospital.

The Federal Trade Commission will put its challenge of a West Virginia hospital merger on hold while it studies a new state law meant to protect the deal from federal antitrust scrutiny.

The FTC’s order  delays for 30 days administrative law proceedings over Cabell Huntington Hospital’s proposed acquisition of St. Mary’s Medical Center, also  in Huntington.

Modern Healthcare reported: “The order follows the recent signing of a new West Virginia law  designed to shield hospital mergers from state and federal antitrust review, assuming they get certain other state approvals. Some speculated the new law would cause the FTC to drop its challenge to the West Virginia merger all together, and that the new law could inspire more states to pass similar legislation. ”

“Withdrawing this matter from adjudication for a short period of time…will give us an opportunity to evaluate the impact, if any, of the state legislation without any adverse effects on competition or consumer interests,”  the agency said.

The publication reported that the FTC had said previously that the takeover would create a near-monopoly over acute-care inpatient hospital services and outpatient surgical services that would likely lead to higher prices and lower quality. Modern Healthcare said that the “two hospitals’ leaders have said they believe the FTC challenge ‘misreads the highly competitive landscape’ across their three-state market of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia” and that the merger would help the community.

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