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After initial approval, Steve Grossman protests Partners deal

Steve Grossman.

Gretchen Ertl/AP Images for Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology/file

Steve Grossman.

State Treasurer Steve Grossman, a Democratic candidate for governor, says the settlement reached between Attorney General Martha Coakley and Partners HealthCare System is a raw deal.

“Because I am deeply concerned that this settlement does not serve the best interests of the people of Massachusetts, I am submitting a public comment opposing the deal in its current form,” he wrote in a letter to Coakley’s office with Thursday’s date on it.

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This condemnation is a change from Grossman’s early support of the deal. In May, he called it a “common-sense solution.”

The letter comes during a period of court-ordered feedback to give the public, including Partner’s rivals — and apparently Coakley’s too — the ability to weigh in on the deal that allows Partners, which already owns eight other hospitals, to buy three community hospitals. Grossman, Coakley, and Don Berwick are all Democratic candidates for governor.

Critics of the settlement have said it does little to blunt the network’s market clout and little to lower health care costs.

Berwick has long been one such critic. He too voiced public concern, starting an online petition to block the deal that he plans to deliver to Coakley when it reaches 2,000 signatures. It currently has 1,496.

Grossman’s criticism, however, seems to have evolved over time. In May, Grossman told the Globe: “This deal apparently represents a common-sense solution that will continue to deliver quality care to residents of the South Shore as well as control health care costs for consumers and employers.”

He said Thursday that that support relied on the Health Policy Commission’s endorsement; basically, if the commission thought the deal was good, he did too.

“I think I fundamentally said if the Health Policy Commission said they believe this is a deal they can support, then I see significant elements in it that are worthy of support,” Grossman said in a phone interview. “So I was really couching my own feelings on the deal in the work of the HPC.”

The state HPC in February approved a report warning that Partners’ proposed takeover of South Shore, one of the largest remaining independent hospitals in the state, could drive up costs and hurt competition. It was left up to the attorney general to decide whether to let the deal go through. And the commission’s chairman said in May that he was “very pleased” with the agreement.

The preliminary agreement allowed Partners to buy Weymouth’s South Shore Hospital and Hallmark Health System’s two hospitals, in return for accepting limits on expansion and prices for the next five to 10 years.

But the commission raised fresh doubts about the agreement early this month, and Grossman said that triggered his conversion.

A hearing was set for Aug. 5, but Coakley today asked the judge to postpone the hearing, a decision Grossman thinks was predicated by his letter.

“She may not acknowledge that she was responding to what I said, but I think it was a pretty direct response,” he said. “Frankly, I think the Attorney General was in an untenable position both from a substantive standpoint and a political standpoint. It was a political non-starter for Martha Coakley for governor.”

And was Grossman’s change of heart predicated by the politics of being a candidate for governor who was supporting a decision that has come under increased scrutiny?

“People will say what they want to say,” Grossman said. “While I may be a candidate for governor, as a constitutional officer whose concern is the financial well-being of the state, I have to call them the way I see them.”

A spokeswoman for Coakley dismissed Grossman’s complaints as political. “Martha has a long record of standing up for consumers to bring down health care costs and that is what she is doing her,” said Bonnie McGilpin. “Steve Grossman, on the other hand, is playing politics by changing his position by the day in a desperate attempt to find another way to attack Martha Coakley, regardless of the facts.”

Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.
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