A state inquiry into Partners HealthCare’s proposed takeover of South Shore Hospital in Weymouth — and how it could affect prices and competition — got a bit larger Wednesday.
Members of the Health Policy Commission voted unanimously to begin a “cost and market impact review” of the Partners-owned Brigham and Women’s Physicians Organization’s plans to acquire Harbor Medical Associates, a Weymouth doctors group.
Commissioners decided to fold that review into their ongoing examination of an agreement by Boston-based Partners to absorb 378-bed South Shore Hospital in Weymouth.
The regional hospital, with 3,800 employees and a 900-member medical staff, already has a clinical affiliation with Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a founding member of Partners.
“Because this proposed physician alignment is an important element of the larger merger between Partners and South Shore Hospital already under review, commissioners stated that the two transactions should be examined together to assess potential impacts on cost, quality, and access to care and overall market competitiveness,” said Kimberly Haberlin, the commission’s deputy chief of staff.
The commission’s staff is expected to complete a preliminary review of the Partners-South Shore transaction by the end of the year. The two hospitals will then be given a chance to comment before commission members vote on the final review in January.
While the commission doesn’t have the power to block a hospital merger, a finding that a proposed deal could boost health care spending or restrict competition for medical services on the South Shore could influence other state and federal regulators. Partners has come under special scrutiny because it is the state’s largest hospital and physicians network.
Two other agencies that have joined forces to examine the same acquisition — the US Department of Justice and state Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office — are thought to be nearing completion of their investigations. It’s not clear if they would wait for the results of the Health Policy Commission’s inquiry before disclosing their own conclusions about whether Partners should be permitted to acquire the Weymouth hospital.
Because the commission anticipated the Brigham and Women’s physicians group would seek to acquire Harbor Medical, examining that deal isn’t expected to slow down the ongoing review of Partners’ plan to acquire South Shore, Haberlin said.
“We remain on track to complete our preliminary review in December,” she said.
Partners vice president Rich Copp said that his organization plans to cooperate with the commission’s review.
“We look forward to working with the Health Policy Commission to demonstrate how this partnership can improve quality, expand access, and help lower the cost of care for patients in Southeastern Massachusetts,” he said.
The Brigham and Women’s doctors group and Harbor Medical filed a “notice of material change” with the commission last month, outlining their proposed merger.
Harbor Medical employs 79 clinicians, including 65 physicians, at three sites in Weymouth and at other sites in Braintree, Holbrook, Pembroke, and Scituate.