(Raleigh, NC)—State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, CPA, said today that he was pleased with yesterday’s Business Court decision allowing a lawsuit to proceed against HCA Healthcare, Inc. on allegations that the health care giant was liable of anti-competitive activity in Western North Carolina after its acquisition of Mission Health in 2019.
The lawsuit (William Alan Davis, et al v. HCA Healthcare, Inc. et al) was filed in Buncombe County in 2021. The most recent ruling is a result of defendant HCA Healthcare, Inc.’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Additionally, defendants asked the court to rule for them with respect to plaintiff’s contention that “Defendants have engaged in an unlawful ‘tying scheme,’ which occurs when a monopolist in one market uses its leverage stemming from the monopoly to ‘reap profits in another market.'”
In its opinion the court partially denied HCA Healthcare, Inc.’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiffs did have standing to file the lawsuit and a valid claim for relief. On the question of the “monopoly maintenance claim,” the court agreed with the defendant, dismissing the claim without prejudice. The court did find, however, that plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged that HCA Healthcare, Inc. had engaged in “an unreasonable restraint of trade.” The net impact is that the lawsuit may proceed in the Business Court (the case county is Buncombe County) although, at this time, no court date has been announced.
“I’m very pleased with the Business Court’s decision,” Treasurer Folwell said. “Now, we can start to get to the bottom of this through the legal process with discovery and witness testimony. I‘m eager to see pricing fairness and high quality return to the medical services needed by the citizens of Western North Carolina.”
In December 2021, Treasurer Folwell filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief as an individual citizen after he was rebuffed by the North Carolina Department of Justice in his efforts to join the lawsuit as a party to protect the interests of the members of the State Health Plan. Generally, people or groups who petition courts to file amicus curiae briefs are those who have a strong interest in the legal issues at stake but are not parties in the lawsuit.
In his brief, Treasurer Folwell contended that as State Treasurer and chair of the State Health Plan Board of Trustees he attempted to get pricing information for routine medical services but could not, claiming that such a lack of information is a violation of recent federal pricing transparency rules. His brief continued by saying “For years, residents and businesses of Western North Carolina have endured some of the highest and fastest growing healthcare prices in the State, while the quality of care they receive has deteriorated …”
“The people in that area deserve better,” said Treasurer Folwell. “They are one medical bill away from poverty and HCA’s total control of the cost and quality has made people afraid to seek medical attention.”
The State Health Plan, a division of the Department of State Treasurer, provides health care coverage to more than 750,000 teachers, state employees, retirees, current and former lawmakers, state university and community college personnel, and their dependents.