OHIC: Proposed hospital system merger has ‘significant implications’ for health care

THE R.I. OFFICE of the Health Insurance Commissioner released a paper Tuesday outlining potential impacts of the merger proposed between Care New England Health System and Lifespan Corp. / COURTESY HEALTH INSURANCE ADVISORY COUNCIL

PROVIDENCE – The proposed merger between Lifespan Corp. and Care New England Health System has significant implications for the affordability, access to and quality of health care in Rhode Island, and carries the potential for impacts on health insurance costs, according to the R.I. Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner.

In a working paper released Tuesday, Health Insurance Commissioner Patrick M. Tigue did not take a position on the proposed merger, and his office has no role in the state review of the merger, but he used the paper to pose questions about the implications of a combined system.

Meeting by a Zoom conference call later Tuesday, the office’s Health Insurance Advisory Council discussed in general the potential impacts of a merger.

“The [Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner] is really laser-focused on affordability, access and quality,” Tigue said.

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Al Charbonneau, executive director of the Rhode Island Business Group on Health, said the merger has tremendous potential for innovation, as well as a potential for increased costs as the two leading hospital systems would combine.

“This is just an extraordinary undertaking,” he said. “There would be an opportunity for innovation,” he said, but the innovations of a merged system would also have to be major ones.

The working paper prepared by Tigue was intended as a launch point for discussion. It examined peer-reviewed studies that had looked at other health care system mergers in the country.

Rhode Island, Tigue’s paper said, has a local hospital market that is actually relatively competitive now compared to hospital markets nationwide. The state has some of the lowest commercial prices for hospital inpatient and outpatient care. But it also has relatively high commercial prices for professional medical services that are related to the hospital care, and high usage rates for health care.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at MacDonald@PBN.com.

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