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Hospital antitrust bill passes through committees 

A state bill that would strengthen the Attorney General's oversight of for-profit hospital mergers and acquisitions cleared the Assembly's health and appropriation committees this summer and awaits a final vote on the Assembly and Senate floors.

Those votes are expected to take place before the end of the Legislative session on Sept. 1.

click to enlarge CONSOLIDATED Senate Bill 977 broadens the California Attorney General's oversight of private health care markets, including for-profit systems like Tenet Health Care, which owns Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in SLO and Twin Cities Communtiy Hospital in Templeton. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • CONSOLIDATED Senate Bill 977 broadens the California Attorney General's oversight of private health care markets, including for-profit systems like Tenet Health Care, which owns Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in SLO and Twin Cities Communtiy Hospital in Templeton.

Senate Bill 977, introduced by Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) earlier this year, would give the Attorney General's Office the power to review private hospital deals and reject them if they're found to hurt consumers and/or cause anticompetitive impacts.

"The data cannot be clearer: Concentrated health care markets immediately result in higher costs in insurance premiums, and hospital and physician services. Patient access to providers and affordable care is more critical than ever," Monning said in a statement.

Health watchdogs who support the bill say that unfettered hospital consolidation has allowed the cost of health care to go up, while the bill's opponents, which include hospitals' and doctors' associations, say it would hamstring hospitals already struggling with COVID-19.

If made law, SB 977 would also carve out new enforcement mechanisms against anticompetitive hospital behavior, and would establish a Health Policy Advisory Board to analyze California health care markets.

A recent New Times investigation into the effect of hospital consolidation on SLO County health care costs found that the prices at local hospitals, when compared to their Medicare-set costs, were above the state median. SLO County hospitals are owned by two national systems—Dignity Health and Tenet Health Care—and the county has a "highly concentrated" hospital market, according to a 2018 UC Berkeley study on the subject. Δ

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