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Monday, February 27, 2012 - 10:14am

Feds Challenge Albany Hospital Sale

Federal regulators are continuing their challenge of the sale of a hospital in southwest Georgia.

Phoebe Putney Health System in Albany purchased Palmyra Medical Center in December. But the Federal Trade Commission now wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the sale and asked Friday for an extension of the deadline to file its hearing request.

The agency has long opposed the sale in court, citing antitrust issues and saying consolidation will mean higher prices for consumers. A district court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Phoebe Putney.

Phoebe Putney Health System officials argued consolidation will not increase costs.

“When we can [eliminate] duplication of services and equipment and so on, it will lend itself to a much more favorable, consumer-oriented pricing structure than the arms race that seems to be a part of health care competitiveness,” said Tommy Chambless, Phoebe Putney Health System senior vice president and general counsel.

The hospitals are owned by the Albany-Dougherty County Hospital Authority and run by Phoebe Putney Health System. Chambless said that means the FTC has no jurisdiction because antitrust laws exempt government actions.

“The 11th Circuit [Court of Appeals] saw the law very clearly,” Chambless said. “It was not a lengthy, complex decision. They obviously considered the law to be quite clear and authorized us to proceed with the transaction.”

Chambless said Phoebe Putney was stretched to capacity and the Palmyra facility was underutilized.

“This case is about whether normal antitrust laws apply to an agreement that allegedly would centralize control of health care in Albany, Georgia, into a monopoly," said Will Tom, FTC general counsel, in an emailed statement. "Monopolies in health care usually raise prices substantially, harming patients and employers alike.”