The Boston City Council held a hearing Tuesday on a merger that would put 13 hospitals under one umbrella.
If the deal is approved, it would impact more than a million patients in Massachusetts. Hospital executives insist it will improve and expand care, but opponents say they are concerned about cost and access.
The mega-merger would include Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Lahey Health Systems and several other hospitals. The deal would also include New England Baptist Hospital in Boston, Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, and Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport.
Those proposing it say it would create a health network that could compete with Partners HealthCare, the parent company of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's hospitals.
If approved, it would be one of the largest hospital mergers ever and it is closer than ever to becoming a reality after the state Department of Public Health gave the deal a green light.
“This is good for patients. It will give them options they don’t have now,” David Spackman, General Counsel for Lahey said.
Spackman and other hospital executives explained what they consider benefits to Boston city councilors, who do not have any authority on approving the deal, but called the hearing for the purpose of educating themselves and constituents. They insist costs would not go up if the merger is approved.
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“And if suddenly the cost is going up, we will be called to task, but that is not going to happen,” Spackman said.
Opponents, including those with the Make Healthcare Affordable Coalition, said they are not convinced. They said they are worried not only about a possible rise in price, but also cuts in services at the places where they receive care now, forcing them to travel to be treated.
“Some people can’t afford public transportation. They don’t have their own cars and they might not be able to make that journey,” Isabella Connors, who testified in opposition to the merger, said.
Dr. Michael Wagner, CEO of Tufts Hospital, said he too has concerns.
“My concern is that this merger will result in increased disapairties, increased costs, while reducing access to underserved communities,” Dr. Wagner said.
There is no timeline for when the merger could be official. It still needs approval from the state Health Policy Commission and the state attorney general's office.