Atrium expects FTC ruling by mid-year amid health care policy debates

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Atrium Health didn’t have much of an update on its proposed partnership with Wake Forest Baptist Health at its quarterly board meeting, but CEO Eugene Woods did provide some insight into other deals and challenges the health system is expecting to face in coming years.

Woods says he expects the Federal Trade Commission to make a decision regarding the strategic combination between Atrium, Wake Forest Baptist Health and Wake Forest University by mid-2020. Last year, the university and health systems agreed to a partnership that will expand the Winston-Salem-based Wake Forest Medical School into Charlotte. In return, the coupling is expected to provide additional resources and strategic buying power.

“We’re in the process of hopefully finalizing the regulatory process with the FTC, we’ll know more by mid-year how that goes through,” Woods said at the meeting.

Woods predicts Atrium also will wrap up its strategic combination with Georgia-based Floyd Health System around the same time. In November, Atrium announced an agreement to combine with the Rome, Ga.-based hospital system in exchange for a $650 million investment over 11 years and $80 million investment in the Floyd Healthcare Foundation.

“With Floyd, those negotiations are going extremely well, so hopefully by mid-year we’re formally partners,” he said.

Woods also alluded to Atrium’s struggles to plan ahead amid an election year in which the various candidates’ health care platforms are radically different.

“The biggest headwinds for us right now are on the regulatory front,” he said. “We’re in a situation here where I’ve never been in my career where you really don’t know what the regulatory changes are going to be.”

Democratic candidates’ proposals vary from single-payer and “Medicare-for-all” plans to expanding public options, which would require regulatory upheaval. Alternatively, President Trump has proposed major cuts to health benefits.

“There was a recent budget proposed nationally that would significantly impact Medicare and Medicaid,” Woods said, referencing the White House proposal that would reduce spending on Medicare by $451 billion and Medicaid by $920 billion over the next decade.

“For us, it’s a safety net provider,” he said. “We are North Carolina’s safety net provider. The number one in Medicaid and number one in uncompensated care, so those are some things that we always want to stay prepared for.”

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