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FTC files brief with U.S. Supreme Court

ALBANY, Ga. — The Federal Trade Commission filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday in the case involving the acquisition of Palmyra Medical Center by the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County.

The FTC initially filed a complaint to block the transaction in April 2011, alleging the purchase would significantly reduce competition and allow the combined hospitals of Palmyra and Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital — which is owned by the Hospital Authority and leased to Phoebe Putney Health System — to raise prices for general acute-care hospital services charged to commercial health plans, thereby harming patients as well as local employers and employees.

The respondents named in the brief are Phoebe Putney Health System, Putney Putney Memorial Hospital, Phoebe North, Hospital Corporation of America, Palmyra Park Hospital and the Hospital Authority.

“Respondents orchestrated a transaction through which PPHS (Phoebe Putney Health System) was to acquire control of Palmyra from HCA (Hospital Corporation of America), giving PPHS an absolute monopoly in the market for inpatient general acute-care hospital services sold to commercial health care plans and their customers in Dougherty County,” the FTC states in the brief.

The key issue before the high court will be the state action doctrine, under which federal antitrust laws do not apply to the anti-competitive conduct of certain public entities created by a state if the conduct is authorized as a part of state policy to displace competition, and that policy is clearly articulated and affirmatively expressed in state law.

The FTC is arguing that the state action doctrine does not shield the transaction at issue because Georgia has not clearly articulated an intent to displace competition in the market for hospital services. It also argues that relevant state law provisions do not suggest, let alone clearly articulate, any legislative intent to displace competition in the provision of hospital services.

The FTC also says in its brief even if Georgia law had condoned the sale-and-lease arrangement at issue, the transaction would not be exempt from federal antitrust law since a state cannot authorize the acquisition by private parties of unsupervised monopoly power, and that the transaction creates a private monopoly that must be actively supervised if it is to be shielded by the state action doctrine.

The FTC is asking that the judgment of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

In the brief, the FTC continues to contend that the authority had little to no involvement in the transaction process, saying the body was “akin to that of a notary public” in that it certified the purchase without playing a part in the fashioning of the terms.

“This is what is typically expected (as part of court proceedings),” Jackie Ryan, vice president of corporate strategy at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, said of the brief’s filing. “Nothing has changed. Our position has been the same as it has always been.”

Ryan said Phoebe was expected to file its brief to the high court by Oct. 1.

The Court of Appeals ruled in December that the acquisition was immune from federal intervention. This paved the way for the $195 million deal to go through nearly a full year after the purchase was first announced.

Palmyra then became known as Phoebe North.

A petition for a writ of certiorari was granted by the Supreme Court on June 25. A hearing date has not yet been determined.

Comments

agirl_25 1 year, 11 months ago

Oh wonderful... I hope the transaction is blocked. I am fortunate that I can go to hosptials in either Dothan or Albany because of where I live but do love Palmyra. I want to go back to Palmyra. I miss the wonderful staff. I promised myself I will not go back until Phoebe's name is off the place. Keep fighting!! My kidney stones miss you Palmyra..haha....as do all my other ailments....xoxo

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ObjectiveEyes 1 year, 11 months ago

I have often spoke of my disdain for Phoebe Putney. That has not changed, however, regardless of what happens with this case, Palmyra is NOT coming back. HCA/Palmyra is gone, never to return. Can you imagine what the consequences of undoing this transaction will be? It's like trying to get the toothpaste back into the tube once it's been squeezed out...

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agirl_25 1 year, 11 months ago

Then why this fight....what good will come of it if Palmyra wins? If it is NOT coming back? My argument against Phoebe is their need to take over the world of healthcare and their desire to squeeze every last penny out of a person when they are not entitled to that penny. Twice I have had to explain to their business office that very fact and have told them I WILL NOT do it a third time. Greed seems to be their mantra. I have been forced to go to Phoebe twice because of certain procedures that were not available at Palmyra and I both times I had problems with billing. And they never got my penny either, nor will they ever.

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KaosinAlbany 1 year, 11 months ago

I agree. PPMH's business office needs help. When I was in a car wreck last year they received money from my car insurance and my health insurance. My health insurance wasn't suppose to be billed at all in the first place. They had that info on file and must have gotten confused. Mistakes do happen. I have medical coverage on my car insurance and told them to only run that through. When I received statements in the mail I noticed both had been billed. I went round and round with their business office for a month or two and was told the wrong thing to do about getting that money back to my health insurance. They told me that I had to reimburse my health insurance first and they would cut me a check. I DON'T THINK SO! Luckily, I knew better because of the type of work I am in. I insisted to speak to a supervisor only to be ignored. I had to send a letter to the head of Customer Relations at PPMH. As soon as that person received it she contacted me and had a supervisor call me about correcting the mistake. It shouldn't have had to go that far just to get my insurance's money back. Those people don't have a clue as to what is going on at the business office.

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agirl_25 1 year, 11 months ago

That is pitiful...is it that they have no training in the field they are working in and a huge turnover or are they actually that dumb? I sometimes wonder where they get the people who work for them. I would think they would have to have some sort of business training to get a job like that. Maybe not a college degree but something from the tech school? Doesn't Phoebe have on-the-job training for employees?

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Cartman 1 year, 11 months ago

ObjectiveEyes, you are correct. Phoebe did that by design.

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Albanite 1 year, 11 months ago

Phoebe overbilled its patients for the past several months. They were only recently caught and the problem corrected. If you got a bill from Phoebe and paid it at any point during the past 12 months, you should review it for accuracy. Never simply pay a mystery bill from Phoebe because unless you know that you owe it before being billed, you cannot be sure that it is legitimate.

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agirl_25 1 year, 11 months ago

I told them that is what insurance (Medicare) and supplemental insurance (Tricare 4 Life) was for..and gave them a big DUH....and an explanation in red ink. I know they don't like the fact that they can't stiff Uncle Sam for the big bucks for the procedures for us old folks but I don't make the rules.....sorry Phoebe. Take what you get and be happy.

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agirl_25 1 year, 11 months ago

Do you know how they were caught? Was it an outside audit or internal? I wonder too if it was a surprise audit. Very interesting that something was caught and corrected and not swept under the rug. Maybe they didn't call it an audit either. That makes things sound suspicious.

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FlunkyMonkey 1 year, 11 months ago

I just hope that the bully on the block, Phoebe Putney, gets bullied back. If this transaction goes through, look out, matilda. Every major industry in the area will either cut back its work force or close all together. Monopolies = zero growth....and a monopolistic health care system is the worst of all.

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chinaberry25 1 year, 11 months ago

My husband went to cancer radiation DRS for a checkup. No lab work or anything. Just looked down his throat. We received a clinical bill from Phoebe and a bill from Mendenhall. Both were the copay from the one visit. Around $100 together. Now Medicare paid 80%, but he did nothing to be billed at all from Phoebe and I figure the 15 min checkup was $300. No wonder Medicare is broke.

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agirl_25 1 year, 11 months ago

We should have a blog......HOW PHOEBE TRIED TO STIFF US...... and let people vent....

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Trustbuster 1 year, 11 months ago

Go FTC! I agree the Phoebe cannot shield its monopolistic activities hiding under the guise of the state action doctrine. The hospital authority is clearly serving the interests of Phoebe not the SW GA community. I hope the justices will rule in favor of the FTC even though it may be too late on the Palmyra building deal.

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daisymae 1 year, 11 months ago

Grocery stores, insurance companies and phone companies are regulated to keep them from having a monopoly so why is it that Phoebe thinks they can own all healthcare in and around Albany and not be considered a monopoly ? When they have all paperwork finalized just pray you don't get sick and have to go to the hospital because you will have to take a second mortgage on your home or give them one of your children to pay the bill.

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