Local officials discuss concerns about Mayo with FTC lawyers

Published 9:36 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Local officials last month discussed with federal lawyers concerns about whether Mayo Clinic is engaging in monopolistic practices.

Save Our Hospital Co-Chairman Brad Arends last month traveled to Washington, D.C., for an unrelated business conference and met with two lawyers from the Federal Trade Commission who specialize in health care matters.

Arends provided updates from the meeting Oct. 29 at a Save Our Hospital meeting. Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams participated in the discussion with the FTC lawyers by phone.

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A lawyer reportedly told Arends it is not illegal for an organization to gain a monopolistic share of the market through legal means, but it could be participating in unlawful action if it takes action to prevent a second provider from entering the community.

A hospital system and another provider agreeing not to enter each other’s territory could also constitute a violation, the lawyer said.

“That could potentially be an issue,” Arends said.

Arends was reportedly informed documentation is needed to prove if Mayo took action to prevent another provider from entering the area.

“I haven’t seen that,” he said.

The FTC was “sympathetic” to the efforts of Save Our Hospital, Arends said, adding the FTC advised him it only deals with such allegations regarding for-profit health care organizations, meaning local representatives would need to speak with Department of Justice representatives because Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit entity.

On Tuesday, Adams said the lawyers provided context.

“They provided some context on reviews that they’ve had with other hospital systems, transitions, mergers, so I think we got some pretty good context on some of that background,” he said. “They were very intrigued, obviously, but after kind of walking through some of the questions that the community had about monopolies, I think they did a nice job of answering what they can and cannot do.”

Discussion came nearly a month after the first part of Mayo Clinic Health System’s planned transition of most inpatient services to Austin unfolded — the moving of the intensive care unit.

Inpatient surgeries are expected to move to Austin in January, and the behavioral health center will move from Austin to Albert Lea in 2019. Labor and delivery services will be the last to relocate to Austin in late 2019 or early 2020.

In an email Tuesday afternoon, Mayo Clinic Health System said it is “confident” it is in “full compliance with corporate governance, antitrust statutes and all other applicable Minnesota law.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson previously stated her staff spent several weeks looking into possible antitrust violations but concluded there was no evidence such laws were broken.

Adams said it is too early to tell if Albert Lea will take back a full-service, acute-care hospital, and plans are expected to become clearer once a final report on the long-term feasibility of the Albert Lea hospital by Quorum Health Resources LLC becomes available.

“We’re trying to look at all options, and we need to know if it’s feasible with Mayo or outside of Mayo,” he said.

A preliminary report by Quorum was reviewed by Save Our Hospital, but limited information is available because it is confidential information.

The city is still trying to hold meetings with Mayo, but dates have not been set.

Adams said a meeting took place last week with a second provider that “is still very interested in” what is going on. The name of the health care provider has not been released.

Four providers are reportedly interested in serving the community and the surrounding area, with two other organizations not showing as strong of an interest.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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