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Judge Wise to Permit Comment on AG-Partners Settlement

Posted on July 1, 2014

An agreement with the potential to shape the Massachusetts health care market for decades deserves public debate and that’s just what Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet L. Sanders wisely permitted yesterday in creating a comment period for the proposed settlement between Partners Health Care and the attorney general.

StethescopeSanders gave members of the public, including a group of rival hospitals and physician groups that oppose the settlement, until July 21 to submit comments. Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office will have until August 1 to respond to the comments in advance of a court hearing on August 5.

The proposed consent judgment, intended to resolve state and federal investigations into the market power of the largest hospital and physician group in Massachusetts, would allow Partners to acquire South Shore Hospital in Weymouth and at least two other community hospitals, but restrict its further expansion and temporarily cap its prices.

Partners’ price increases would be limited to general inflation. The parent company of Massachusetts General and Brigham & Women’s hospitals would also be prohibited from acquiring any more hospitals in Eastern Massachusetts for seven years without approval from Coakley’s office.

Critics of the settlement, including rivals Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Lahey Health in Burlington, Tufts Medical Center in Boston, and Newton-based Atrius Health contend that the agreement would merely enshrine pricing disparities that have resulted from Partners’ market power. Judge Sanders denied without prejudice a motion by the competitor hospitals to intervene in the case, but also called for the comment period.

“What’s the big rush?” The Boston Globe quoted Judge Sanders as asking during a hearing on the matter Monday.

What’s the rush indeed?

Transparency and open debate are the building blocks of sound public policy decisions. It’s especially true for a complex matters like this one that affect every Massachusetts citizen and every employer who seeks medical care and pays a medical bill.

AIM takes seriously its responsibility to speak for Bay State employers on issues that affect the cost and quality of health care. Our 4,500 hard-working member employers pay the highest health insurance premiums in the nation and struggle every day to grow in the face of rising costs to provide good health coverage to employees.

We look forward to the discussion.