Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) Vice President Anne Schwagerl today testified before a joint hearing of the House Commerce and Health Committees.
The committees held the joint hearing to review proposed legislation that would add additional requirements before hospital mergers occur. Under the proposal, the health systems planning to merge must notify the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and allow the agency to review the proposed merger. After that review, which will happen in consultation with the Attorney General’s office, the department can approve, approve with conditions, or deny the merger. There are several states with merger review and approval processes similar to what is envisioned in this legislation. For example, the Rhode Island Attorney General denied a merger application in February last year under the state’s Hospital Conversions Act.
At the annual MFU convention in November, members voted to make access to affordable health care and increased competition in the marketplace priorities for this year. The proposed merger of Sanford and M Health Fairview, as well as the extreme consolidation of the healthcare sector in general, sits at the intersection of these two important issues.
“Greater Minnesota already has one of the most highly concentrated hospital markets in the entire country and studies show insurance premiums on the individual market are higher in areas with this extreme concentration, a particularly important issue for farmers and other self-employed entrepreneurs who purchase health care insurance on the individual market,” Schwagerl said. “Health care monopolies don’t just raise costs, they reduce services. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s current laws might be inadequate to prohibit the further monopolization of our healthcare system, which only lead to further cost increases, poorer conditions for healthcare workers, and less access to services particularly in rural communities.”
The legislation discussed was introduced by Rep. Robert Bierman, DFL-Apple Valley. Following a House Commerce Committee hearing that is scheduled for Wednesday, the legislation will become HF402.
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