The Federal Trade Commission on Dec. 3 announced it plans to block the proposed merger between Hackensack Meridian Health and the Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, saying the hospital chain could monopolize Bergen County’s health care market and drive up consumer prices.
“This acquisition would give the combined hospital system increased bargaining leverage, likely leading to increased prices,” Ian Conner, head of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, said in the announcement.
HMH is one of the largest hospital chains in the state, with control of 13 acute care hospitals spanning eight counties. Last year, they struck a merger deal with Englewood, a 541-bed hospital in Bergen County and one of the last remaining independent hospitals in the state.
Connor warned that should the deal go through, HMH would control three of the six acute care hospitals in Bergen County.
HMH could in turn “ demand higher rates from insurers for the combined entity’s services, which, in turn, may lead to higher insurance premiums, co-pays, deductibles, or other out-of-pocket costs for plan members,” the FTC continued.
“The transaction would also remove the competitive pressures that have driven these hospitals to invest in quality improvements to the benefit of patients,” he said.
Both state and federal officials would need to approve the merger. The FTC said it filed an administrative complaint and plans to file a suit in federal court to block the proposed business move.
The FTC’s 5-0 vote seeks a temporary restraining order, and the administrative trial is scheduled to begin on June 15, 2021, according to the agency.
Officials at the two hospitals disagreed with the FTC’s assessment, saying they were disappointed by the Thursday announcement
They argued in a joint statement that the merger would achieve “cost efficiencies and improved affordability of care for patients, payors and our communities.”
“We continue to firmly believe that this merger is in the best interest of our patients and the communities at large,” reads the joint statement. “As a result, we plan to vigorously defend the merger in court, which will give us the opportunity to further demonstrate the benefits Hackensack Meridian Health and Englewood Health will achieve together.”