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WA bill would add state oversight to hospital mergers

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Monday, February 19, 2024   

A bill in Olympia aims to protect Washingtonians against restricted health care access and rising costs from hospital mergers.

Consolidation in the health care market has become a growing concern for some in Washington state. A 2022 Office of Financial Management report found the number of hospitals that are part of larger systems grew from 10% in 1986 to nearly 50% in 2017.

Sam Hatzenbeler, senior policy associate at the Economic Opportunity Institute, said it has been bad news for Washingtonians, which is why Senate Bill 5241 is needed.

"The bill would give the Attorney General oversight over potential mergers and acquisitions," Hatzenbeler explained. "And would give them the power to stop them or place conditions on these mergers if they would be shown to reduce access to care or increase costs for patients."

Organizations including the Washington State Hospital Association and Washington State Medical Association have testified against the bill, saying it could tie the hands of hospitals that are struggling financially to survive. The measure has passed in the Senate and is scheduled for an executive session in the House Committee on Civil Rights and Judiciary on Tuesday.

Washingtonians have a legal right to access abortion. However, some in the state have seen access restricted in hospital mergers, especially in rural parts of the state where there may only be one option.

Courtney Normand, Washington state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said sometimes, the larger entity in an acquisition is a corporation that does not offer abortion services.

"You may have a community that previously was receiving access to birth control, abortion care, cancer screenings and more, and then suddenly, that's being taken away because of a consolidation," Normand pointed out.

Normand argued the legislation is critical for Washingtonians.

"We're talking about, many times, life-and-death issues," Normand emphasized. "In the interest of preserving access to health care for all, we should not just put the ease of corporations that don't want to have to deal with some paperwork over the needs of patients and our communities, especially in the rural parts of Washington."

Disclosure: The Economic Opportunity Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Education, Livable Wages/Working Families, and Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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