Tuesday, February 27, 2024

To Protect the Citizens of Western North Carolina, Federal Judge Allows Lawsuit Against HCA to Proceed

Treasurer Folwell Applauds Court Ruling
Raleigh, NC
Feb 27, 2024

State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, CPA, said today that he was pleased with last week’s decision by Chief U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger allowing a lawsuit to proceed against HCA Healthcare, Inc. (ANC Healthcare, Inc. and Mission Hospital, Inc.) on allegations that the health care giant had engaged in anti-competitive activity in Western North Carolina after its acquisition of Mission Health in 2019. 

Judge Reidinger ruled against ANC Healthcare, Inc. and Mission Hospital, Inc., denying their motion to dismiss the federal antitrust litigation against them. Their motion had sought to end the case almost at its beginning.

However, the key legal requirement for a case to survive a motion to dismiss is not that it be proven without any doubt but that the plaintiffs’ complaint states enough facts to establish the plausibility of the defendants’ wrongful actions. Judge Reidinger’s decision recounted applicable facts that did just that. Additionally, he ruled that the cities of Asheville and Brevard and the counties of Buncombe and Madison had sufficiently stated claims under Section 1 and Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

“I’m pleased with the court’s decision,” Treasurer Folwell said. “The people of Western North Carolina need to have their day in court. There is only one fingerprint on this entire deal and that’s AG Stein’s.  He approved the deal and if he’d just done his job in protecting the consumer, we wouldn’t need to be in court.”

In December 2021, Treasurer Folwell filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief as an individual citizen after he was rebuffed by Attorney General Stein’s North Carolina Department of Justice in his efforts to join a similar lawsuit (in North Carolina state court) to protect the interests of the members of the State Health Plan. That other lawsuit is now progressing in the North Carolina Business Court. 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. Judge Reidinger also granted the “State of North Carolina’s Motion for leave to File Amicus Curiae Brief.”

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.