ALBANY ALBANY — In an interview with the Huffington Post Thursday, the head of the Federal Trade Commission says the organization is considering challenging Phoebe Putney Health System’s merger with Palmyra Medical Centers to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In December, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Phoebe’s favor and blocked the Federal Trade Commission’s challenge of Phoebe’s $198 million buyout of its chief competitor and crosstown rival Palmyra Medical Centers.
After more than two decades of negotiations, Palmyra’s parent company, healthcare giant HCA, agreed to sell the hospital and its ancillary properties to the Hospital Authority of Dougherty County, which would then lease it to Phoebe.
The FTC, originally joined by Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, filed a formal challenge to the merger, contending that Phoebe’s purchase of the hospital would likely cause a spike in healthcare costs and would have a detrimental effect on healthcare competition throughout Southwest Georgia.
Thursday, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told the Huffington Post that the organization was considering challenging the Court of Appeals ruling to the highest court in the land.
“If this hospital merger is allowed to go through, it’s going to give a blueprint for how to design the most anti-competitive outcome that will raise health care costs for every consumer in rural areas and small cities, and that will be a huge problem for all of us,” Leibowitz is quoted as telling the Post.
Mitchell Katz, a spokesperson for the FTC, confirmed to The Herald that Liebowitz’ comments were correct and that the FTC is continuing to weigh all of its options.
“We’re considering all of the options, and seeking review of this case by the Supreme Court is definitively an option,” Katz said. “But that decision has yet to be made.”
Phoebe officials feel differently, saying that the FTC is wasting tax dollars by continuing a fight they themselves called a legal longshot.
“Their own attorneys said early on that this was a longshot, but apparently that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to spend tax dollars fighting what has been affirmed by two different courts, and prompting us to spend millions as well,” Phoebe Putney Vice President of Legal Affairs Tommy Chambless said.
Phoebe officials maintain the position that they announced in December 2010 when CEO Joel Wernick announced plans for the merger; it’s all about a need for space.
“We have simply run out of space here at this facility and so we have turned to a facility in town who has space,” Chambless said. “The federal government has taken a position that is shared by the medical community across the country that consolidation of healthcare centers should be and is now the common practice.”
If the FTC were to seek consideration by the Supreme Court, the first step would be a consultation with the Solicitor General’s office of the U.S. Justice Department. A petition for certiorari would then be submitted to the justices who would then decide whether to hear the case.