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Bigger NH hospitals? More competition would be better

Remember the failed merger of Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Catholic Medical Center? The House votes today on a bill that would "encourage" hospitals to enter "cooperative agreements" with each other or other health care providers and direct the Attorney General's office to approve all applications for such agreements within 90 days. The bill looks for all the world like an attempt to make big mergers easier by reducing their state oversight.

Why would this be a problem? After all, wouldn't we want the state to be less of a burden on private businesses?

The problem is the way this bill (Senate Bill 308) deals with proposed "cooperation" among health care providers. It presumes that such agreements are in the public interest. "It is necessary and appropriate to encourage hospitals and other health care providers to cooperate and enter into agreements that will enhance innovation in the delivery of health care," the bill declares.

But health care consumers benefit from competition among health care providers. State law already produces numerous impediments to competition in the health care industry. This bill encourages more mergers and acquisitions, which would further reduce competition.

The bill directs the already overworked Attorney General's office to approve or deny any cooperative agreement applications within 90 days, which would preclude a thorough review. In testimony before the House Finance Committee a few weeks ago, Alex Walker of Catholic Medical Center called the bill an "antitrust E-ZPass lane" for large hospitals. That sounds about right. The bill is likely to discourage competition and increase consolidation. That would be a bad deal for New Hampshire.

Eric Church
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