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Massachusetts Delegation Signals New Concerns About Steward-Optum Deal; some suggest the state take them over – Fall River Reporter

Nearly every member of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation signed a letter sent Friday to the heads of Steward Health Care, UnitedHealth Group and Optum Health expressing serious skepticism that Optum’s purchase of Steward’s floundering physician network will benefit the Bay State good will come.

A slew of state and federal lawmakers have raised concerns about a potential sale of Stewardship Health to for-profit insurer Optum since it was announced about four weeks ago. But in Friday’s letter, led by U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, eight of the nine Massachusetts members of Congress specifically said they are concerned that UnitedHealth wants to acquire Steward’s physicians to offset lower operating margins at Optum, “which the autonomy of doctors may be jeopardized. be pressured to prioritize efficiency over personalized care.”

“The acquisition of physician practices is part of a massive, accelerating consolidation of medical care that is putting patients in the hands of a shrinking number of giant corporations or hospital groups,” said the letter, signed by every member of the delegation except the U.S. Representative Richard. Neal from Springfield, said. It later added: “There are also concerns that Optum could refer patients from its extensive physician network to its own urgent care or surgery centers, potentially ignoring what is best for patients.”

The proposed deal would involve the sale of Stewardship Health Inc., the parent company of Stewardship Health Medical Group Inc., which employs primary care physicians and other physicians in nine states, to OptumCare, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group.

The letter requests specific information about the proposal, including the number of new physicians Optum will acquire in Massachusetts if the sale closes, the amount Optum will pay for the Stewardship network, what portion of the proceeds will be used to pay off the installments. Steward debt, whether some of the proceeds will be reinvested in Massachusetts hospitals, how patient data will be protected, whether doctors affected by the sale will continue to practice in the same insurance networks, and more. Lawmakers asked for answers by next Friday, April 26.

A spokesperson for Steward had no comment Friday afternoon, and Optum spokespeople did not immediately respond to News Service outreach.

The Health Policy Commission, whose job is to monitor health care spending growth, plans to review the proposed sale to, among other things, “understand which Steward physicians are involved in the transaction, and what the relationship will be between the physicians and Steward’s hospitals,” according to a presentation given to the commission’s board last week. But the agency said it did not have the documents needed to begin its 30-day preliminary review.

An HPC spokesperson said Friday that the agency “has begun investigating the proposal based on available information, but key information from the parties remains outstanding.” The submission that triggers the 30-day clock on the HPC review cannot be completed until the HPC receives “the final agreement and other requested information and documents,” HPC communications director Mickey O’Neill said.

Once that filing is complete, O’Neill said the HPC will have 30 days to determine whether to conduct a more comprehensive review of the transaction, known as a Cost and Market Impact Review (CMIR). The proposed sale cannot be completed “until the HPC’s review and any concurrent review by state or federal antitrust authorities,” O’Neill said.

MassCare, which is pushing for single-payer health care, announced a series of rallies to be held next week calling for Steward hospitals in Massachusetts to remain open. The state government and hospital operators have started talking about what could happen and what contingencies could be put in place if Steward Hospitals were to close at short notice.

“Many have suggested that the state of Massachusetts use its power of eminent domain to take over the hospitals and run them again as public hospitals. An idea worthy of immediate debate!” executive director Kimberley Connors wrote in an email.