Federal Trade Commission officials tell us they now have two options in moving forward with their challenge to the merger between Phoebe Putney Hospital and Palmyra Medical Center.
They could ask a judge to force Phoebe to sell Phoebe North, or they could ask a judge to order Phoebe temporarily to stop moving forward with any plans for Phoebe North. That word comes after Tuesday's US Supreme Court ruling that didn't throw out the merger, but did rule the hospital authority, that now technically operates both hospitals, is not immune to anti-trust laws.
It's been a challenge several years in the making. But last year the Federal Trade Commission went to the high court asking to review a lower court's ruling which allowed this merger to go through. And it looks like it paid off.
Federal Trade Commission officials are not surprised by the Supreme Court's ruling- in favor of the FTC's challenge of the Phoebe Putney/ Palmyra merger.
"We were very pleased and very gratified by the US Supreme Court's decision. The supreme court's decision endorsed the reasoning and the analysis and the arguments that we had made to the court," said Sara Razi, the Deputy Assistant Director of the Bureau of Competition for the FTC.
The FTC challenged the hospital merger, arguing it would create an illegal health care monopoly and increase the cost of health care in the Albany area. "Both Phoebe and Palmyra had competed against each other for years for patients in the area and they had also competed on the basis of services and quality. With the acquisition our concern was that that rivalry, which had benefited the residents of the Albany area through both lower prices and higher quality would be lost."
In 2012 the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said Phoebe could move forward with the $195 million buyout, saying the hospital authority was an entity of the state and immune to anti-trust laws.
But the Supreme Court disagrees. "The court held that the Georgia hospital authority law did not clearly articulate and affirmatively express a policy allowing hospital authorities to make acquisitions that are anti- competitive. And thus that the state action immunity doctrine does not apply to this particular transaction."
It's a move that has left a lot of questions unanswered about the future of healthcare in Albany. In the meantime city officials are hoping for the best. "I am just hoping that whatever occurs it will be in the best interest of this community. And I believe that that board has the best interest of this community at heart and even this region at heart and trying to make us the best healthcare region in the state," said Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard.
Phoebe officials stand with the deal and say anti-competitive practices haven't happened since they took over what is now Phoebe North.
The Supreme Court ruling sent the case back to the Federal Appeals Court.
The FTC has not decided how to move forward with their challenge. Officials are evaluating all options and plan to make a decision very soon.
Phoebe officials don't believe the merger will be overturned, and they say they are moving forward with the long term plans for Phoebe North.
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