Hospitals have been consolidating at increased rates over the last five years. Merger and acquisition transactions grew from 66 transactions in 2010 to 112 in 2015. Earlier this month, the MergerWatch Project released the results of a national survey, which concluded that current state hospital oversight programs are inadequate to protect consumers’ access to needed health care services in their own communities.
By analyzing current Certificate of Need (CON) laws for hospital oversight, MergerWatch found that only 35 states and the District of Columbia actually have a Certificate of Need Program in place. California has a similar procedure through the Office of the Attorney General. In states that do have CON Programs in place, the majority do not require CON review for affiliations that do not involve formal sale, purchase, or lease or for hospital closures.
These less formal affiliations can still lead to a loss of access to critical health care services for consumers. In Sierra Vista, Arizona, for example, women lost access to many reproductive health services, including tubal ligation, when a nearby secular hospital joined a Catholic hospital system in 2010. Women in need of such services are sent to the nearest non-religious hospital, which is 80 miles away.
MergerWatch also developed a grading system based on whether a state’s hospital oversight program meets certain criteria including when CON review is required, CON review standards, and effective engagement with affected consumers and the public. Under this grading system only six states receive an A or A-. New York State receives a B grade overall.
Many existing CON Programs are not consumer friendly and make it difficult for consumers to access material information about hospital transactions and how they will impact their access to health care. Notably, only nine states require consumer representation on the CON reviewing body, and only six states require a separate public hearing for each CON application.
The final section of the report outlines model policies for state oversight of hospital transactions and action steps for advocates to take ensure that consumer interests are protected.
Access the full report here.