PROVIDENCE — Many Rhode Island politicians have kept relatively quiet regarding their views — and major requests — of the blockbuster deal between Lifespan Corporation and Care New England, including the governor. But on Thursday, House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi told the Globe the state should rethink the proposed merger.
“The right thing to do is kill this deal,” Filippi, a Block Island Republican, said in an interview.
Just last week, Governor Dan McKee refused to weigh in on the proposed merger between Lifespan Corporation and Care New England, saying he’s leaving the decisions up to state regulators.
“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. “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 [the] priority, the economies, and to make sure that we are set, long-term, we can satisfy the health care needs in Rhode Island.”
He added, “Whatever solution is best for the state of Rhode Island is what I would be asking them to take a look at.”
Filippi said McKee should “do his job and his job is to make sure the people of this state are going to benefit.”
“This is one of the biggest issues in the state of Rhode Island right now — if not the biggest,” said Filippi. “For the governor to say ‘I’m not involved,’ is insanity.”
Filippi is considering entering the governor’s race next year, but said he’s “still deliberating.” When asked when he’d be announcing, he said it would be “a matter of weeks, not months.”
Filippi said McKee should “undo the mistakes” of former Governor Gina M. Raimondo, who had brought the systems together for one final attempt at a “Rhode Island solution.”
“The mistake of the last governor was to kill the Partners deal,” said Filippi. When Partners HealthCare, now known as Mass General Brigham, came to Rhode Island, interested in purchasing Care New England, it would have been a “huge economic opportunity for the state,” he said.
But Lifespan launched a public relations campaign claiming Partners’ proposed acquisition of Care New England would lead to higher costs for local patients and shift jobs to Massachusetts. Partners ultimately pulled out.
Raimondo penned a letter to the executives at Care New England and Lifespan, asking them to return to the table and draft a plan. In February, the systems signed a definitive agreement to merge and create an integrated academic health system with a minimum investment of $125 million from Brown University.
But Filippi said the merger will deplete room for competition as the newly proposed merger will own 80 percent market share. He said it will impact costs of care and jobs.
“When you have two big companies in the state, they’re going to pay their employees more because they are competing for the same doctors and nurses in the state,” said Filippi. “You give market share of 80 percent to one company and they run the table. Employees are going to suffer and patients are going to suffer all to benefit the monopoly.”
Filippi suggested bringing Partners back into the equation.
“Partners HealthCare is one of the best hospital systems in the world. Even if they do come in, we need to make sure that we exercise proper regulatory oversight of them. I’m not saying we allow them to come in [Rhode Island] and operate without any government intervention whatsoever. We have a robust regulatory environment for our hospital systems that Partners would be subjected to.”
He added, “Plus, they’ve got billions of dollars in cash just sitting around, waiting to be invested.”
The proposed merger is still open to regulatory scrutiny by both the Federal Trade Commission, the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office, and the state department of health. Filippi said he had faith in Attorney General Peter Neronha “to do the right thing.”
“I think he’s an independent man. I just don’t see how he could rule that this thing is in the best interest of the people of the state,” said Filippi. But if approved, he said, “If the government makes the grievous mistake of allowing this merger to happen, and then people [lose their jobs]... it’s our fault.”