As Bacon’s Rebellion’s Sherlock Reports, Hampton Roads $6B health care conglomerate’s actions suggest it’s concerned about antitrust issues

Those familiar with our reporting on Sentara Healthcare know we’ve raised issues about potential antitrust problems, particularly with Sentara’s aborted, $11.5 billion merger with North Carolina’s Cone Health.

Now, thanks to James Sherlock of Bacon’s Rebellion, we see that the Justice Department might have similar concerns.

Sherlock’s July 23 column highlights the recent speech by Assistant Attorney General Richard Powers, acting head of Justice’s Antitrust Division.

“The clouds have darkened over Virginia’s healthcare monopolies,” Sherlock wrote.

In his column, Sherlock notes that the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department have already warned Virginia that its Certificate of Public Need (COPN) process impedes competition. Sherlock goes on to suggest that the hiring of former state Treasurer Aubrey Layne as Sentara chief of staff might be to prepare a potential successor to CEO Howard Kern who is new to the company in case Sentara “needs to deal with the Justice Department seeking leniency.”

Checks and Balances Project highlighted that warning to Virginia policymakers in March. We noted then that the COPN process has been routinely criticized by five successive presidential administrations – perhaps the only regulatory issue to receive such consistent, unqualified treatment for over 30 years.

Powers told the University of Southern California Law School audience on July 21 that President Biden’s recent executive order on competition, including in health care, provided guidance for the Justice Department.

“I will close by emphasizing what the recent executive order made clear: Fair and vigorous antitrust enforcement is crucial to protecting economic liberty and ‘providing an environment conducive to the preservation of our democratic political and social institutions’,” Powers said. “Our Criminal Program is on the frontlines of that mission. To translate it into action requires us to enforce the law zealously and apply Department policy faithfully.”

C&BP has given Justice plenty to chew on. In May, we reported on Sentara’s massive overcharging of at least one uninsured patient by Sentara. Our findings were echoed in July by The Wall Street Journal.

Also in May, C&BP asked Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring to investigate the potential overcharging of uninsured patients to determine if the case we reported was a one-off or part of a pattern. In July, C&BP sought an Internal Revenue Service review of Sentara’s nonprofit status.

We asked Sentara for comment on Sherlock’s piece, and the reasons for Lane’s hiring, but we have not received a response. This is the 22nd time C&BP has sought comment from Sentara.

Ray Locker is executive director 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:

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Has Sentara Hired DC Crisis Managers To Rescue Its Troubled Merger?
Sentara’s Records Show It Significantly Overcharged Uninsured Patient
LOCAL VOICES: A Norfolk Nurse Decries Sentara’s Treatment of the Poor