NC State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, has announced a Business Court decision allowing a lawsuit to proceed against HCA Healthcare, Inc. for engaging in “an unreasonable restraint of trade.” in Western North Carolina after its acquisition of Mission Health in 2019.
In December 2021, Folwell filed a brief contending that as State Treasurer and chair of the State Health Plan Board of Trustees he attempted to get pricing information for routine medical services but could not, claiming that such a lack of information is a violation of recent federal pricing transparency rules. His brief continued by saying “For years, residents and businesses of Western North Carolina have endured some of the highest and fastest growing healthcare prices in the State, while the quality of care they receive has deteriorated …” The people in that area deserve better. They are one medical bill away from poverty and HCA’s total control of the cost and quality has made people afraid to seek medical attention.”
The State Health Plan, a division of the Department of State Treasurer, provides health care coverage to more than 750,000 teachers, state employees, retirees, current and former lawmakers, state university and community college personnel, and their dependents.
In a separate lawsuit in June, the City of Brevard filed alleging that HCA Healthcare has attempted to monopolize medical services in 7 Western North Carolina counties leading to inflated prices, lower quality of care and loss of services. The city of Asheville, Buncombe County and Madison County filed companion cases.
According to Carolina Free Press the lawsuit states, “HCA purchased Mission’s assets, in significant part, because Mission had monopoly power in the (general acute care) market in the Asheville Region — monopoly power that HCA knew it could exploit to maintain and enhance Mission’s monopoly power in the relevant markets.” The relevant markets include, Mitchell, Yancey, Madison and McDowell in our area plus Buncombe, Transylvania and Macon counties where HCA owns 70 to 90% of the counties’ acute care providers.
In related news HCA is one of three hospital systems who are competing to fill the need for more acute care beds in the area. The 2022 State Medical Facilities Plan listed the need for 67 more acute care beds in northern Buncombe area covering Buncombe, Madison, Yancey and Graham counties. Since then, Mission Health, Novant Health and AdventHealth have submitted applications. Mission proposes extending its current facility in Asheville and Novant and Advent are proposing to build their facilities in southern Buncombe. Pardee Healthcare which is located in the southern area has now sent a letter to state officials urging them to deny all three bids.
In early September Mission Health announced it will be giving pay increases totaling $22 million for certain positions in its ongoing effort to retain and recruit workers during the ongoing national health care worker shortage.