Rhode Island is at a crossroad concerning the future of our
state’s hospitals. The proposed acquisition of Care New England, which includes
Women & Infants, Kent, and Butler Hospitals, by Boston-based Partners
Healthcare raises significant concerns about Rhode Islander’s access to
critical hospital services, the affordability of health insurance and the
potential loss of jobs.
Now more than ever, we need to consider how to be diligent
and proactive in order to protect the future of Rhode Island’s healthcare
system. One facet of this diligence comes in the form of amending the Hospital
Conversion Act (HCA), the law establishing the criteria used to analyze
hospital acquisitions in Rhode Island. The HCA is the frontline of defense to
protect the healthcare delivery system Rhode Islanders depend upon, including
their access to high-quality hospital care. This legislation has evolved since
it was originally passed in 1997, but the criteria used for the review
conducted by the Department of Health needs further expansion to provide the
strongest defense that Rhode Islanders deserve.
Specifically, the law needs to be amended because never
before have we seen a massive healthcare system just across our border
attempting to subsume one of Rhode Island’s largest employers and our second
largest hospital system. The HCA must be amended to require that regulators
consider important questions that will be left unanswered if the current law is
Rhode Islanders deserve to know if Partners will decrease
primary and specialty healthcare services. They deserve to know if Partners
will shift patients to out-of-state providers.
Elected officials deserve to know if Partners will decrease
the number of healthcare jobs in Rhode Island. State regulators need to know if
a Partners acquisition of Care New England will increase local health insurance
premiums or result in an increase in cost to the state’s Medicaid program.
Additionally, Brown University needs to know if Partners
will decrease funds available for medical research, medical innovation and
academic medical programs.
None of these questions have been addressed to date, even though
a letter of intent was signed over a year ago in April of 2017.
The added criteria we are proposing in an amended HCA will
allow for an enhanced review process that will provide the most in-depth
analysis of any proposed hospital acquisition in Rhode Island. Enhancing the
review criteria will also ensure the associated jobs at these hospitals remain
local. Rhode Island’s hospitals are among the state’s largest employers, and
both protecting and providing opportunity for job growth at these vital
institutions is critical to the economy.
The proposed Partners’ Healthcare acquisition of Care New
England raises significant concerns regarding the cost of health insurance in
Rhode Island. This issue was outlined in a recent study commissioned by the
Office of the Health Commissioner (OHIC). The study highlighted the potential
impacts this acquisition could have on both the cost of health insurance and
the Rhode Island economy.
The OHIC study highlights concerns about the rise of local
healthcare costs because of the market dominance that Partners Healthcare would
have if the acquisition moved forward. The report notes Partners has used their
market power in the insurance markets in which they currently operate to obtain
higher reimbursement rates. The ripple effect of these rising costs will be
felt throughout the local economy. Higher reimbursement rates to Partners may
lead directly to higher insurance premiums for Rhode Island employers.
Additionally, the risk of patients being referred out of
Rhode Island is not limited to having to travel to Boston. Partners owns and
operates a hospital in nearby Foxboro, Massachusetts, a short 30 minute drive from
When viewed through the lens of the RI patient, this is all
about access, quality and affordable healthcare in RI. When viewed through the
macro lens of the state of RI, it’s all about the impact on one of our state’s
largest economic drivers, our healthcare delivery system.
It is critical that we proactively begin to address the unanswered
questions that have been raised by Partners’ proposed acquisition of Care New
England. The legislation proposed will protect Rhode Island jobs and our access
to high-quality healthcare here at home. This is not a time for expediency; this
is a time for caution.
Louis P. DiPalma is a Democratic state senator from