GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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May 28, 2013

New health panel eyes Partner merger

Commission is one that may also aid AGH

BOSTON — A new state commission has chosen the proposed merger of the large Partners Healthcare System and with the smaller South Shore Hospital for its first review.

The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, established in the 2012 health care cost control law, has announced plans to examine the potential merger’s effects on costs and the health care market.

Founded by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, Partners already includes community and specialty hospitals, a managed care organization, and community health centers and is the state’s largest private employer, with 60,000 employees. South Shore Hospital was founded in 1922, has 378 licensed acute care hospital beds, 77 bassinets for newborns, and 3,900 employees.

In a statement, commission Executive Director David Seltz said the panel is committed to conducting its review “on consumers’ behalf in a timely and thorough manner.” The commission, which is charged in part with helping the state keep health care cost growth in line with economic growth, cited high costs at Partners and the Weymouth community hospital as factors that triggered the decision to launch a review.

Next steps for the review will be discussed at a commission board meeting on June 19, with commissioners scheduled to vote on whether to continue with the review after hearing from Seltz.

The commission is the same body that has been set up to provide up to $135 million through a “distressed hospital fund” – a status that Lahey Health has agreed to seek to secure grants for Gloucetser’s Addison Gilbert Hospital, as reported by the Times in March.

While the term “distressed” raised some red flags on Cape Ann among those concerned about Addison Gilbert’s long-term future, Alan Sager, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, said the fund has simply been created to address the fact that the number of acute care hospitals has been reduced by one half to about 65 since 1993.

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