PROVIDENCE — Unlike his predecessor, Governor Dan McKee has refused to weigh in on the proposed merger between Lifespan Corporation and Care New England, saying that he’s leaving the decisions up to state regulators.
Former governor Gina M. Raimondo had written a letter to the executives at Lifespan and CNE when she held the state’s top office, asking them to return to the table and find an “in-state solution” for health care. Rhode Island is a small market, and the two hospital systems have attempted, and failed, to merge several times in the past.
But the financial pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic and from Raimondo made the two come together again.
“We’re looking at the department of health and the attorney general’s office and all the regulators,” McKee told the Globe at a press conference Tuesday. “We’ll leave it up to the regulators right now to engage, as they are obligated to do, and encourage them to make sure that patient health is priority, the economies, and to make sure that we are set, long-term, we can satisfy the health care needs in Rhode Island.”
On Monday, the systems said they had to revise and resubmit their Hospital Conversion Act application at the request of regulators. The attorney general’s office told the Globe Monday that the merger application had not yet been deemed complete. Attorney General Peter Neronha said in an interview that in the first application, the systems “did not fully answer the questions.”
According to Neronha, the questions his office was seeking answers to included: “What is this new entity, if approved, from their perspective, going to look like? Where would it be? Where would it operate? What kinds of services in those places? Would they not provide services in other places?”
If approved, the newly merged entity would be one of the largest employers in the state and would alter the health care landscape. While observers note that the deal would increase access to care for many consumers, critics say that the merger could lead to less competition, job cuts, and a possible overall increase in health care costs.
When the merger has failed to go through in the past, out-of-state organizations have paid attention: In 2017, Boston-based Partners HealthCare —now Mass General Brigham — planned to acquire Care New England. They dropped their bid in 2019.
“Whatever is benefiting Rhode Island, we want. We want our docs to stay here, for our universities to stay engaged. We don’t want to be sending those things out of the state if we can come to an agreement... whether it’s this merger or some other transaction to happen in the health care industry in Rhode Island,” said McKee.
He said a deal would have to be “economically strong” for the state and “makes sense” for patients, but provided little detail.
But the governor has not made it clear where he stands on what he wants from the executives of these two systems.
When asked if he thought this proposed merger was not the only solution for the health care landscape in Rhode Island, he told the Globe, “Whatever solution is best for the state of Rhode Island is what I would be asking them to take a look at.”
“They should be open minded,” he added.