Phoebe's monopoly question remains unsettled - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Phoebe's monopoly question remains unsettled

Chambless Chambless
Prisant Prisant
ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The Federal Trade Commission and Phoebe continue to battle over whether Phoebe's purchase of its former competition created an illegal monopoly.

Phoebe Putney critics say the latest ruling, which could discourage other organizations from buying the former Palmyra Medical Center, drags on a controversial debate that's been going on for four years.

Phoebe officials hoping a new ruling will prevent them from going back to court in February. But critics want the FTC to continue the fight.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital leaders say a ruling by an administrative hearing officer supports their purchase of Palmyra Medical Center, which is now Phoebe North.

"It means at the end of the day that the position that we've taken for a very long time now, that is that the transaction that occurred is going to stand," said Phoebe Putney Sr. VP Tommy Chambless.

Insurance salesman, David Prisant, doesn't agree. "When is it ever over, I don't know. I don't know that I'll live long enough to see it be over."

"I just think it's a temporary victory for them. I mean this decision, as I understand it, can be appealed."

An administrative judge sided with Phoebe in its appeal of a Department of Community Health decision that a prospective buyer of Phoebe North would not need a certificate of need.

North Albany Medical Center requested that review, but the judge's ruling means any potential buyer would need state approval before opening.

"Quite frankly the analysis that he did was a very thorough and intellectually probing one," said Chambless. "And he reached the same conclusion at the end of the day that we reached a year and a half ago, when we first started considering the CON implications of what the FTC had undertaken."

The Federal Trade Commission has been challenging Phoebe's purchase of Palmyra for several years, saying it created an illegal health care monopoly.

"Competition generates lower prices and better quality. And we're in a community where there is no competition to speak of," Prisant said.

Phoebe officials hope the ruling will help them in a February 4th hearing with the FTC.

"So I would hope that if the FTC reads this order and takes it to heart, that maybe some direction would change in all of that that is nothing but just a financial drain on healthcare in Southwest Georgia," said Chambless.

Healthcare which will continue to be in the spotlight. The commissioner of the Department of Community Health Clyde Reese supports the decision. An official North Albany Medical Center says that group has no comment on the ruling.

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