Federal Trade Commission urges Lee County Medical Center CON approval

Letter from FTC to Georgia Department of Community Health urges CON approval for Lee hospital

Via the Albany Herald »

LEESBURG — In the final weeks leading to a decision on the certificate of need application for the proposed Lee County Medical Center, parties on both sides of the issue are voicing their views on whether the 60-bed facility should become a reality.

Among them is the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC sent a letter dated Monday to Frank Berry, a commissioner with the Georgia Department of Community Health, urging the DCH to approve the pending CON for the Lee hospital.

The FTC’s Office of Policy Planning, Bureau of Competition and Bureau of Economics used the letter as a means to submit its input at the request of the Lee County Commission as part of the FTC’s mission “to promote the interests of Georgia health care competition and consumer welfare.”

“For the reasons explained below, and to promote the interests of Georgia health care consumers, we urge you to consider the likely benefits of increased competition when evaluating any CON application,” the letter said. “In particular, we recommend that you grant the CON requested by Lee County Medical Center.

“Competition is the core organizing principle of America’s economy. Competition spurs innovation, lower prices, and higher quality goods and services for consumers. When evaluating any CON application, we urge Georgia’s Department of Community Health to consider the benefits that Georgia’s health care consumers are likely to enjoy from increased competition.”

The FTC goes on to say that it has closely examined conditions in Lee, Dougherty, Mitchell, Terrell, Worth and Baker counties, and that the agency is concerned about the “current lack of hospital competition” in the region.

“These concerns are particularly acute in Lee County, where there are no hospitals at all, so residents must travel across county lines to get to the nearest hospital,” the letter stated. “Further, Phoebe Putney Health System is the dominant provider in the area and the exclusive source of hospital services — consumers’ sole choice — in several neighboring counties.

“If the department approves the CON, consumers in and around Lee County (and third-party payers) may benefit from greater choice, higher quality and lower prices spurred by competition.”

In a settlement between the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County and the FTC that was finalized on March 31, 2015, the Hospital Authority was allowed to maintain the former Palmyra Medical Center, later called Phoebe North after it was acquired by the Hospital Authority, on several conditions.

One of those stipulations was that Phoebe Putney Health System not contest a CON filed in its immediate coverage area for a period of up to five years. Officials in Lee County have told The Albany Herald that the FTC has been watching the backlash concerning the proposed Lee hospital with interest, but the federal agency declined to confirm last month whether it was conducting an investigation.

The Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, the Dougherty County Commission, Crisp Regional Hospital and Colquitt Medical Center have been among the entities to come out in opposition to the proposed hospital.

A decision on the roughly $123 million project is anticipated by Nov. 15. If the hospital is approved, it will be built on the former Grand Island Golf Club site over the course of 15-18 months.