“Your input was shared with the attorneys in our office who were in the midst of conducting a thorough review of this proposed affiliation.“ – North Carolina Attorney General’s office
Last month, Checks & Balances Project (C&BP) asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to review the proposed, $11.5 billion merger between Sentara Healthcare and Cone Health of North Carolina. C&BP cited Sentara’s use of lobbyists to influence Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) process to block competitors from developing services in which Sentara dominates the southeastern Virginia market.
The FTC needed to investigate the proposed merger, C&BP wrote, in part because Sentara’s use of the discredited Certificate Of Public Need (COPN) process to weaken its remaining competitors – specifically, Bon Secours DePaul Hospital and Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.
C&BP copied the attorneys general of North Carolina and Virginia – Democrats Josh Stein and Mark Herring – on the correspondence to the FTC.
North Carolina Attorney General’s Office Replies to C&BP
Stein’s office replied, thanking us for “taking the time to write to the North Carolina Department of Justice and sharing your perspective regarding the Cone Health/Sentara Healthcare business combination.”
“Your input was shared with the attorneys in our office who were in the midst of conducting a thorough review of this proposed affiliation when Cone Health and Sentara decided not to move forward with their transaction. However, Attorney General Stein continues to be concerned about the wave of hospital consolidations and health care costs, and will continue to look into these issues.”
Questionable Sentara Practices
Since November, C&BP highlighted in its reporting:
- Potential overcharges by Sentara of uninsured patients. Last month, C&BP reported on the case of a patient who visited the emergency room at Sentara’s Virginia Beach hospital for treatment for a kidney stone. The patient’s bill showed charges for services that were twice as high as the listed price on Sentara’s transparency list.
- Starting in February, C&BP wrote about how Sentara benefited from a ruling by Norfolk Chief Circuit Judge Mary Jane Hall, who had previously represented Sentara when she was an attorney. Hall’s co-counsel on that case, Jamie Martin, is now Sentara’s main outside counsel and had represented the company in the case in Judge Hall’s court. That case is now before the Virginia Supreme Court.
- Abuse of the state’s outmoded COPN law that led to the closing of the competing DePaul hospital, which had the highest rates of charity care in Virginia.
- Allegations of unfair business practices, including the poaching of a group of cardiologists from competing Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.
C&BP’s series of investigative stories and the scrutiny from North Carolina Attorney General Stein were followed by the surprise ending of the long-proposed merger.
Ray Locker is enterprise and investigative editor of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.
You may also want to read:
“A monopoly position is not enough – Sentara also seeks to eliminate competitors”
Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need Process Needs a Road Map
5 Things To Know About Certificate of Public Need Laws
Attorney Jamie B. Martin Was “Legal Advisor” to COPN Reform Group — But Didn’t Publicly Disclose Sentara Connection
Judge Ruled for Sentara, Once Represented the Company with Sentara’s Lawyer