Press Facebook readers weigh in on MSHA/Wellmont merger decision

Johnson City Press • Updated Sep 20, 2017 at 11:53 PM

With Virginia’s decision on deck, Tennessee gave its nod this week for the region’s two major health care systems to merge into a single entity.

Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System’s progress toward becoming Ballad Health was met Tuesday with high praise from local officials, including the mayors of Johnson City, Kingsport and Washington County; state lawmakers; East Tennessee State University’s president; and local business leaders.

On Wednesday, we asked our Facebook readers to share their thoughts about the decision and the future of health care in the region.

Several readers continued to express concerns about monopolization of hospital locations and other health care services, as had been highlighted in some public comment sessions that took place in both states’ consideration processes.

“Now people who cannot leave the region have no choice in hospitalization care except for just staying at home,” wrote Brian Posey. “What are they going to do next? Scoop in all the ambulance services? Start forcing all these labs and family doctor practices? Where will it end with the monopolization?”

Some specifically cited the need for choice in health care providers.

“We no longer have options for healthcare,” wrote John Robert Smith. “We are stuck with what we got now because a for profit corporation wants a monopoly of an area.”

Mountain States and Wellmont leaders repeatedly have touted state-monitored cost controls in Ballad’s Certificate of Public Advantage. Pricing growth at Ballad Health will be 30 percent below what all other hospitals experience, according to MSHA CEO Alan Levine, who would be Ballad’s executive chairman and president.

Some readers, though, were skeptical about the merger’s effects on pricing.

“I think with no competition, that they can charge whatever they want, whenever they want,” wrote Jennifer Carr. “A monopoly is not going to be good for anyone in this area.”

Allen Rasnick, on the other hand, had this to offer: “Insurance companies and the government set the rates.”

And some readers had positive things to say about the merger on Wednesday.

“At least it would cut off drugs abuse where people (go) to different hospitals in different systems they couldn't verify what medication they had and missed using the system,” wrote Rachael and Allen Nelson. “I personally think it's a great reason to merge and get the drug use under control.”

Similarly, not all public comment on the merger has been negative. In a Nov. 27 session at the Millennium Centre in Johnson City, 21 of 27 speakers voiced support.

In the COPA application, Mountain States and Wellmont leaders pledged to protect rural access to care, invest in needed health care services, reduce the pace of healthcare cost growth and establish regional programs to improve population health.

A joint press release from both systems stated 17 teams, consisting of representatives from both organizations, have been meeting to help prepare the systems for integration, which is expected to occur in early 2018.

Virginia Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine is expected to make a decision on the merger’s cooperative agreement in that state by Sept. 30.

Ballad Health is expected to invest about $450 million over 10 years to improve community health, enhance research efforts and expand addiction services among other efforts.

A COPA officer will monitor the merger to ensure all commitments are followed. A COPA complaint line will also be created for people to make anonymous complaints. Quarterly and annual reports will be submitted to the Tennessee Department of Health for review, as well as annual public hearings.

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