After the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County’s $195 million acquisition of the former Palmyra Medical Center, the question on a lot of people’s lips today is, “What does it mean?”
There doesn’t appear to be a simple answer to that.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that the Georgia Legislature had not clearly articulated a policy to allow hospital authorities in the state to displace competition, which is what the Federal Trade Commission contends the Hospital Authority did with its purchase of Palmyra.
Once the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld District Court Judge Louis Sands’ ruling that the authority was immune from federal antitrust review, the authority went through with the purchase of the hospital from Hospital Corporation of America and contracted with Phoebe Putney Health System, which operates nonprofit Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, to operate it.
But the high court ruled that Sands and the 11th Circuit Court erred in their decisions that state legislators had to know that the laws creating hospital authorities in the state would result in displacing competitors. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court to conduct proceedings in line with the Tuesday ruling.
As would be expected under the circumstances, Phoebe officials were unhappy with the decision, while FTC officials were claiming a victory on behalf of consumers.
Meanwhile, state legislators are working on rewording state law to meet the standard that the U.S. Supreme Court determined hadn’t been met in regard to hospital authorities.
The question still to be answered is, Where does this leave Albany and Southwest Georgia? It will depend on what comes next from the Court of Appeals.
Will the Court of Appeals now say the sale has to undergo FTC review? If so, how long would that take? If the Court of Appeals invalidates the sale, will HCA resume control of it? If so, would it operate a private hospital as it did before? Would HCA officials opt to sell it again, perhaps once again to the Hospital Authority under a revised state law, should that House bill pass this session?
All we know for now is that Phoebe officials, who were planning to locate a women’s and children’s health center in the facility, which has been renamed Phoebe North, say they are proceeding with plans until they are told they can’t.
The Supreme Court has ruled, but we still don’t have all the answers.