April 18, 2010

Antitrust fears stall doctors’ merger with MMC

Other hospitals claim the deal could raise costs; backers say it would maintain quality of care.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Central Maine Medical Center and Maine Medical Center have been rivals in the cardiac care market, and the merger also would involve cardiologists who work with patients at the Lewiston hospital. Maine Cardiology has a medical office three blocks from Central Maine Med, for example.

“It is a very big deal when you have about 40 cardiologists decide to merge and then join one hospital system,” said Chuck Gill, spokesman for Central Maine Healthcare, owner of the hospital.

“When your employer is also the largest cardiac provider in northern New England, there would be, I think, a tendency to refer to your employer,” Gill said. “We definitely believe there would be less choice over time.”

Mark Harris, the MaineHealth spokesman, said the deal is really in the best interest of patients. Southern Maine could see a decline in access to high-quality heart care if the merger doesn’t happen, he said.

Private-practice doctors are seeing a decline in payments through Medicare and Medicaid, and that’s especially significant in Maine because a relatively high percentage of Mainers are covered through the government insurance programs, he said.

At the same time, hospitals in other parts of the country are acquiring cardiology practices and constantly recruiting doctors from less lucrative markets, such as Maine, he said. That could pose a big problem in Maine because the state will need more heart doctors to take care of its aging population.

“We want to recruit more high-quality doctors,” Harris said. The merger would allow the physicians to earn salaries that aren’t dependent on what kind of insurance a patient has, he said. “By joining MaineHealth, they join a much larger organization that can weather some of the smaller economic storms.”

The merger also will improve the coordination of care, according to Harris. “The health care reform legislation is actually asking hospitals and physician providers to work closer together and integrate.”

Dr. John Love, a longtime cardiologist with Cardiovascular Consultants of Maine, said the doctors also see the merger as the best way to maintain cardiac care in the future.

The system of family physicians running their own businesses and competing for patients has been replaced by larger networks of specialized high-tech medicine and public insurance programs that effectively set prices, he said.

“We realize that the old culture and model … just doesn’t work any more,” Love said. “What we need to do is develop a system that provides the best care to the most people for the least amount of money.”

The consolidation planned here is similar to models that have proven successful in other cities, he said.

“If we can’t find a way for the cardiologists and hospitals to integrate, we will fall well behind those kinds of centers that can do that,” Love said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

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