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CT hospital mergers mean higher prices and fewer competitors, state report says

A worker installs wiring inside the newly opened Hartford HealthCare office building at 100 Pearl Street.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
FILE, 2022: A worker installs wiring inside the Hartford HealthCare office building at 100 Pearl Street.

Connecticut hospitals that grew through mergers or acquisitions were left with fewer competitors and higher prices for consumers, according to a recent state report.

The rise in prices was more pronounced for inpatient and outpatient services covered by private insurance, the report found.

The study, which was released by Connecticut's Office of Health Strategy, measured trends in health care prices, spending, service utilization and facility operating outcomes.

It also examined how those trends changed for hospitals and regions that consolidated over roughly the past decadecompared to the rest of the state.

Some of the most notable consolidations included Hartford Healthcare’s affiliation with Backus Hospital, its acquisition of Saint Vincent’s Medical Center, and its partnership with Charlotte Hungerford.

The report also examined Western Connecticut Health Network’s affiliation with Norwalk Hospital and Trinity Health’s acquisition of Saint Mary’s and Johnson Memorial Hospital.

These consolidations were associated with more high-profit services like cardiac and musculoskeletal care over low-profit services like maternity care, according to the report.

But the Connecticut Hospital Association (CHA), which represents dozens of health care organizations across the state, pushed back on the report's findings, saying OHS had approved the hospital consolidations.

The study “does not consider what would have happened if affiliations did not occur and financially strained providers were faced with closing down, rather than joining with another care provider,” the CHA said in a statement.

The CHA has blamed inflation, the COVID-19 pandemic and understaffing as stressors facing health care providers across the state.

But the agency also says Connecticut has not adequately funded its Medicaid program, which has had the effect of driving up costs for hospitals.

“The report is further evidence that state Medicaid rates don’t cover the cost of care," the CHA said, "leaving hospitals to make up the difference through higher commercial payments, shifting cost to employees and employers.”

This story has been updated.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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