Business & Tech

Mass. won’t conduct rigorous review of Partners’ R.I. proposal

The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission has studied — and has criticized — Partners’ past expansion plans. But this transaction is different because its greatest effects would be felt in Rhode Island.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File 2018
The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission has studied — and has criticized — Partners’ past expansion plans. But this transaction is different because its greatest effects would be felt in Rhode Island.

Officials at Massachusetts’ health care watchdog agency Wednesday indicated that they will not conduct a rigorous review of Partners HealthCare’s latest proposed acquisition, saying the deal would have little effect on residents in the state.

Partners, Massachusetts’s largest network of doctors and hospitals, is seeking a takeover of Care New England Health System of Providence. The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission has studied — and has criticized — Partners’ past expansion plans. But this transaction is different because its greatest effects would be felt in Rhode Island.

Health Policy Commission officials said they don’t expect a decrease in market competition if Partners acquires Care New England because the two organizations draw patients from largely different geographic areas.

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For maternity services, if Partners patients who live within 30 minutes of Providence decided instead to deliver their babies at Women & Infants Hospital, which is currently part of Care New England, health spending could increase by $120,000 a year, the Health Policy Commission said.

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“The numbers are not significant,” said David Seltz, the commission’s executive director.

But Seltz and commission chairman Stuart Altman said the commission should monitor whether the transaction ends up drawing patients away from lower-cost community hospitals that are located in Massachusetts, close to the Rhode Island border.

At least one of those hospitals is closely watching the deal. “We believe the Partners merger will affect Sturdy,” Joe Casey, chief executive of Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, said in a statement Wednesday, noting that Sturdy has already felt the effect of Partners’ large outpatient center in Foxborough.

Partners is the parent company of several Massachusetts hospitals, including Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s. It also includes one New Hampshire hospital.

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Care New England is Rhode Island’s second-largest health system, the parent of three hospitals including Women & Infants.

Partners and Care New England have been planning a merger for almost two years, arguing that a deal will help strengthen the Rhode Island system’s finances and boost the scope and quality of its medical services. The Brigham, which is owned by Partners, would become the new parent company of Care New England.

“We appreciate the Health Policy Commission’s careful consideration of our proposal and we look forward to continuing to work with them,” officials from Partners, the Brigham, and Care New England said in a joint statement Wednesday.

Rhode Island officials are still reviewing the proposed deal. Joseph Wendelken, spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Health, said the merger application is not yet final. Once they determine the application is complete, officials expect to issue a decision within 90 days. The Rhode Island attorney general’s office is also reviewing the transaction.

Dr. David Torchiana, the Partners chief executive who pushed the Boston-based health system to grow out of state, recently announced that he plans to step down. Care New England officials said the leadership change “will have no impact” on their deal with Partners.

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.