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Original Scholarship Health care costs
Lawton Robert Burns
Mark V. Pauly
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Context: There is a growing trend of combinations among hospital systems that operate in different geographic markets known as cross-market mergers. Economists have analyzed these broader systems in terms of their anticompetitive behavior and pricing power over insurers. This paper evaluates the benefits advanced by these new hospital systems that speak to a different set of issues not usually studied: increased efficiencies, new capabilities, operating synergies, and addressing health inequities. The paper thus “looks under the hood” of these emerging, cross-market systems to assess what value they might bestow and upon whom.
Methods: The paper examines recently announced cross-market mergers in terms of their supposed benefits, as expressed by the systems’ executives as well as by industry consultants. These presumed benefits are then evaluated against existing evidence regarding hospital system outcomes.
Findings: Advocates of cross-market hospital mergers cite a host of benefits. Research suggests these benefits are nonexistent. Additional evidence suggests other motives may be at play in the formation of cross-market mergers that have nothing to do with efficiencies, synergies, or community benefits. Instead these mergers may be self-serving efforts by system chief executive officers (CEOs) to boost their compensation.
Conclusions: Cross-market hospital mergers may yield no benefits to the hospitals involved or the communities in which they operate. The boards of hospital systems that engage in these cross-market mergers need to exercise greater diligence over the actions of their CEOs.
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