Metro, News

Partners HealthCare, Care New England settle on merger plan

Paxson optimistic about acquisition arrangement, deal yet to meet regulatory approval

By
Senior Staff Writer
Saturday, June 2, 2018

Following Partners HealthCare and Care New England’s definitive agreement to merge announced May 23, President Christina Paxson P’19, who previously criticized the merger, stated in a press release that she was “optimistic” about the deal. This vote of confidence comes after the University’s conversations with Partners and CNE over the last five months about strengthening health care in Rhode Island, according to Brian Clark, director of news and editorial development.

“Preserving and strengthening health care and biomedical research and innovation in Rhode Island continues to be an important priority,” Paxson said in the press release. “As Brown’s discussions with Partners and Care New England continue, I am optimistic that we can address the various concerns that I raised earlier this year.”

The two health care groups announced their intent to explore the concept of a merger more than a year ago. In January, Paxson wrote that the arrangement “would likely increase the cost of care and reduce the ability of Rhode Islanders … to have a voice in how our health care system works.” Paxson was concerned that health care would shift to Massachusetts, where Partners is located and professional costs are higher, thereby increasing prices for consumers, The Herald previously reported.

In response, Paxson suggested an alternative: the Brown University-Prospect Medical plan, which would keep health care local and merge CNE, the University and California-based Prospect Medical Holdings. Prospect’s Rhode Island presence is centered on CharterCARE Health Partners, which operates Our Lady of Fatima Hospital and Roger Williams Medical Center, among others. However, the University’s proposal was criticized by United Nurses and Allied Professionals, which was concerned with Prospect’s track record on patient care and safety.

The University is no longer pursuing this alternative plan, instead shifting its attention to continuing conversations with Partners and CNE, Clark wrote in an email to The Herald.

“Achieving a health care solution involving Brown, Care New England and Partners that promises to demonstrate strong benefits for Rhode Island would take the place of the alternative to the Partners acquisition that Brown had proposed in January with Prospect Medical/CharterCARE,” he wrote.

However, CharterCARE Rhode Island continues to worry about the impact of merging CNE and Partners.

“A Partners acquisition of Care New England will be devastating for Rhode Island health care consumers, employers and insurance providers. Rhode Island regulators have already rung the alarm bell that Partners will use their market leverage to increase reimbursement rates if this merger moves forward,” wrote Bill Fischer, spokesperson for CharterCARE, in an email to The Herald. “The mere contemplation of this merger has already cost Rhode Islanders hundreds of jobs with the closure of Memorial Hospital and left thousands of residents in the Blackstone Valley with inadequate access to emergency room care.

A study commissioned by Rhode Island released in February found it likely that Partners would seek to increase CNE’s revenue if the two companies were merged, which would ultimately raise Rhode Island health insurance premiums.

However, Partners’ Vice President of Communications Rich Copp highlighted the advantages of the merger, such as improved patient care, research and new investments. “Certainly it will also mean new investments in Brown University-led research,” Copp said.

Much of this research is conducted in partnership with the seven hospitals affiliated with the Alpert Medical School — one of which is owned by CNE, Women & Infants Hospital. This research could translate into clinical practice, with applications for patients in Rhode Island and elsewhere, Clark said.

“An academic medical center in Rhode Island plays an integral role in strengthening health care for Rhode Islanders and contributing to economic development,” Clark said.

However, the merger is not final until it is approved by several state and federal regulatory bodies and leaders, including the Federal Trade Commission, the Massachusetts Health policy commission, the Massachusetts attorney general, the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Rhode Island attorney general, Copp said.

Lifespan, the largest health care provider in Rhode Island, continues to engage in discussion with Partners HealthCare and CNE to explore ways to work on “building upon our world-class health system,” wrote David Levesque, Lifespan spokesperson in an email to The Herald.

“Partners and Care New England’s announcement was not surprising, as the two organizations have been in negotiations for more than a year,” Levesque wrote. “Lifespan, Partners’ and CNE talks — started in February — remain productive as both organizations thoughtfully consider their futures in an ever-changing health care environment.”