A Health Care Monopoly In South Carolina?

Proposed sale of Providence Health to Prisma raises questions …

The proposed sale of Columbia, South Carolina’s Providence Health to Prisma Health is being embraced by Republican governor Henry McMaster – who claims the purchase would create “new opportunities to enhance clinical quality” and “improve access to affordable care for patients in the Midlands and beyond.”

Is that true, though?

According to McMaster, the Prisma-Providence deal – the terms of which were not publicly disclosed – “also shows that Prisma Health is committed to the communities it serves, and for that, we should all be grateful.”

Should we be grateful, though?

With South Carolinians paying ever-escalating health care costs, we are not entirely sure how eliminating competition within the marketplace is something for which “we should all be grateful.”

In fact, as the consolidation of providers accelerates across South Carolina (Prisma was formed by the recent merger of Palmetto Health in Columbia and Greenville Health System in the Upstate) there are legitimate questions being raised as to whether consumer interests are being safeguarded.

And whether costs are actually going to remain “affordable.”

“They are creating a monopoly,” one Midlands Republican activist told us “And the governor is in favor of it?”

These concerns were echoed on the floor of the S.C. Senate on Thursday by Darrell Jackson, a liberal Democrat from Richland county. While we do not agree with Jackson on very much, he did raise some interesting points regarding this proposed sale.

(Click to view)

(Via: Travis Bell Photography)

“They’re buying up doctor offices and others,” Jackson (above) said, referring to Prisma during a speech from the well of the Senate. “At some point, we ought to examine whether these health care monopolies are good for the citizens of South Carolina. It is not good for the citizens that live in Richland County. I think we’ll see more of this. They’ll not only control buildings and offices, but also costs.”

The big question? Whether savings from the efficiencies of scale achieved by larger systems are actually translating into lower costs for patients and consumers – or higher profit margins for the systems’ investors and executives.

These investors and executives, of course, can then turn around and purchase the loyalty of politicians’ with campaign contributions …

There is no doubt that bigger systems can provide more efficient care, but again … who is benefiting from these efficiencies?

One of the system’s regional competitors – Lexington Medical Center – also questioned whether the purchase would ultimately benefit consumers.

“As the only locally owned independent hospital in the Midlands, Lexington Medical Center has provided quality health services that meet the needs of our community for nearly fifty years,” a statement from hospital chief executive officer Tod Augsburger noted. “Prisma Health’s potential acquisition of Providence Health and KershawHealth raises concerns because, as they become a larger corporate conglomerate, a monopoly if you will, we believe it will adversely affect access, quality and care for patients and families across the Midlands.”

As the terms of the Prisma-Providence agreement have not been released, it is hard for us to assess the deal and its potential impact on the health care marketplace in South Carolina. Accordingly, we are not endorsing or opposing the proposed purchase at the moment … we are endeavoring to educate ourselves on its particulars and their potential impacts.

Also, as is our policy on any issue, we are extending our open microphone to anyone who has a take on it.

Having said that, we do have serious concerns about this proposal and its potential to do the exact opposite of what governor McMaster claims it will do. Furthermore, we have questions as to why McMaster is so invested in pushing this deal.

One thing is clear: This announcement has sparked a much-needed debate on an incredibly serious issue … one we look forward to following (and weighing in on) as it unfolds.




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