Miami Herald: South Fla. hospital chains and insurers are getting bigger. Is that good for patients?

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South Florida insurance companies and large hospital chains recorded healthy profits and acquired rival companies in an attempt to grow bigger in 2018, a new analysis found, accelerating a race to gain leverage in healthcare pricing negotiations.

But consumer advocates warn that whatever savings the healthcare monoliths find are unlikely to be passed down to patients.

Allan Baumgarten, who authored the recently released 2019 Florida Health Market Review, said the insurance companies and hospital chains are each seeking to achieve dominance.

“You have both health plans and hospital systems in a sense each trying to gain market strength and match the market strength of the other one,” he said. “It’s kind of a cyclical process. One makes that decision and then the other says, ‘Well, we have to get bigger as well.’”

Research has shown that prices are higher where hospital markets are more concentrated, according to Phillip Longman, policy director at the left-leaning Open Markets Institute, which advocates against monopolization in various industries.

“Sometimes, through consolidation, you get real economies of scale: better coordination, integration of care,” Longman said. “But experience has shown that whatever cost savings result are generally not shared with consumers.”

In Florida, consolidation among health insurance companies drove a 12% rise in profits for health maintenance organization insurance plans, or HMOs, and South Florida hospitals reported 8% average profit margins, their highest in recent years, according to the Florida Health Market Review.

Hospital systems grew through new construction and acquisitions. The Tennessee-based Hospital Corporation of America, or HCA, one of the nation’s largest for-profit systems., and AdventHealth, a nonprofit healthcare system, led the charge in Florida, acquiring hospitals from Community Health Systems, which was once the seventh-largest system in the state, the report found.

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