HHC's Charlotte Hungerford affiliation takes a step forward

BY Matt Pilon

The front entrance to Hartford Hospital, Hartford HealthCare's flagship campus.
[Editor's Note: This story has been updated with comment from Hartford HealthCare.]

A proposed $73 million affiliation of Charlotte Hungerford Hospital with Hartford HealthCare took a step forward this week as the Office of Healthcare Access declined to refer the deal to the Attorney General's Office for an investigation of unfair or anti-competitive behavior.

OHCA's final report, known as a cost and market impact review (CMIR), was the first of its kind following the passage of a 2015 state law that required enhanced review of proposed ownership transfers of larger hospitals (over $1.5 billion in net patient revenue).

OHCA, which is a part of the Department of Public Health, would have been required by Public Act 15-146 to forward its final report to the AG if it had found that either party in the transaction was likely to have a "dominant market share" or was likely to charge higher prices as a result of the deal.

In a draft report issued in June, OHCA characterized HHC as having a dominant market share, but it walked back that finding in its final report this week.

"Upon reflection, we think this characterization, which carries with it an implication of potential anti-competitive harm, was imprecise and is insufficiently supported based on the data available for this analysis," OHCA wrote.

The report concluded that there are "potentially positive and negative effects from the proposed affiliation."

It will likely help a small and financially weak hospital to continue providing services to Torrington and surrounding areas. HHC also stands to gain.

"[HHC's] relative strength in the market will increase, but not very substantially. The resulting entity will likely have leverage to increase prices at Charlotte Hungerford, but the share of commercially-negotiated prices at that hospital is minor and the associated influence on healthcare spending overall is likely negligible. Based on these findings, DPH declines to refer this report to the Attorney General."

The decision brings Hartford HealthCare "one step closer" to a strategic affiliation with Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, according to Hartford HealthCare Spokesperson Shawn Mawhiney. HHC already partners with the hospital and would begin a formal affiliation with it if and when the certificate of need is endorsed, he said via email.

"If approved, this affiliation would enhance and expand Charlotte Hungerford's existing clinical services and programs, improve care coordination, provide additional access points for care delivery, support the recruitment of skilled providers, assist with community benefit programming and allow for further infrastructure investments," he said.