The Partners deal

Martha Bebinger describes it, and you can listen to the audio at the link.

[In a] deal reached Monday between Partners [Healthcare] and Attorney General Martha Coakley […] in exchange for allowing the network to acquire [South] Shore Hospital and Hallmark Health, [Partners will curb health care cost growth in the following ways].

The deal ties cost increases for Partners hospitals and physician groups to inflation through 2020. […]

Partners is also agreeing to limit the number of physicians it employs. But the threshold is the number of doctors Partners employed in 2012. Since Partners is below that number now, it can add 550 doctors, a significant number, over the next three years, and then increase 2 percent a year for the next two years. […]

Partners will no longer be able to negotiate contracts that include affiliated doctors. It’s not clear if this will curb Partners’ reach, as Coakley suggests, or will press independent doctors into a Partners physician group.

Supporters of the agreement say the most significant element may be that Partners can no longer say to insurers: take the whole network or you don’t get any of our hospitals. Insurers will negotiate separately with Partners’ teaching and community hospitals if the deal is filed as is in court.

The report concludes saying that parts of the deal are binding for 10 years. Reading between the lines a little, I suspect it’s the constraints on contracting with doctors and insurers that do so, but I could be wrong. In any case, in order to get a bit bigger today, Partners is agreeing to constrain its growth or use of market power in some way for a decade. After that, the limits are off. Though by then, we may be living in a very different health care market landscape … maybe.


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