Clipboard: Federal regulators scrutinize Partners plan to buy South Shore Hospital

Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice are evaluating what effect Partners HealthCare’s plan to purchase South Shore Hospital could have on competition, Liz Kowalczyk and Robert Weisman of the Globe staff report today.

Partners Chief Executive Gary Gottlieb described the review as routine. An anti-trust lawyer told the Globe that such scrutiny is not given to every merger deal, just those considered especially large or in a more consolidated market. They have become more common as regulators have grown concerned about hospital mergers and rising costs, the attorney said.

Officials from the justice department and the state attorney general’s office have talked to Partners competitors about how their business could be changed by the merger, Kowalczyk and Weisman write:

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When asked whether Partners’ purchase of South Shore could potentially lead to higher prices, Gottlieb said, “We will need to demonstrate that it will, in fact, reduce costs.’’

Partners said that it has worked to reduce costs, in part by renegotiating contracts with insurers, to reduce the amount Partners would have received by $345 million over four years.

Gottlieb also pointed out that the health care cost-control law recently signed by Governor Deval Patrick “will hold us all accountable.’’ The law limits the growth in health care spending in the state to around the growth of the state economy overall.

“That puts guardrails around some of the worries,’’ Gottlieb said.

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