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High court ruling leaves uncertainty

Editorial

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.

Comments

Trustbuster 1 year, 5 months ago

The federal commission should review the acquisition of Palmyra and get around the bogus state action doctrine. I don't believe that Phoebe should be grandfathered under the proposed bill to close the loophole for state hospital authorities.

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KaosinAlbany 1 year, 5 months ago

You know that is what the Phoebe lobbists are after, right?

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LikeItIs 1 year, 5 months ago

Why should HCA reopen a facility in SWGA? They already determined they will not be allowed to provide services in competition to Phoebe, which is likely why they sold in the first place. Antitrust issues appear to only be the end result of a long process which begins with the "Certificate of Need" process. The goal of the CON program as defined on georgia.gov is noble. Unfortunately the process has been perverted to stifle competition.

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Terry.Lewis 1 year, 5 months ago

Not so fast. During the early stages of the acquisition process Palmyra finally won its long-running battle with Phoebe over an Obstetrics CON. Phoebe fought that fight tooth and nail.

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KaosinAlbany 1 year, 5 months ago

I remember that. You are very correct, Terry.

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LikeItIs 1 year, 5 months ago

Thanks for the correction Terry. I remember going thru health insurance quotes for the company I worked for at the time, comparing those costs with other locations around the country, and being utterly disgusted with the whole CON process, the apparent Phoebe agenda, and the obvious consequences. I relocated soon after, a bit before the merger was announced.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 5 months ago

It would be interesting to know if Phoebe's high paid staff attorney, who himself is a former legislator, asked the State Attorney General for a review prior to the acquisition for an opinion as to its legality. With the patching and mending ole Taxem Ed Rynders is doing it is apparently an "oh no moment." I do hope everybody is paying attention to how quick Capt Eddie (aka Taxem Ed) is turning the garbage skow around in the ocean. (LOL, LOL,LOL) You might suspect there's something in it for him. You think?

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