Wilmington hospital up for sale; Gastonia’s CaroMont signs up for Folwell plan

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It was a big news day for hospitals in North Carolina:

• New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington said it is seeking bids for sale, the Wilmington Business Journal reported. A sale is not certain, but hospital CEO John Gizdic said the county-owned institution needs to consider its options given increasing consolidation in the hospital industry. NHRMC has invested more than $1 billion in facilities and equipment over the last decade and is financially strong, he told reporters Tuesday. The system employs about 7,000 people.

• Separately, Gastonia-based CaroMont Health became the largest N.C. health care system to sign a contract with the North Carolina State Health Plan Network formed by State Treasurer Dale Folwell.

The Gaston County system joins three smaller institutions in Asheboro, Durham and Williamston that have agreed to terms that tie reimbursement to a multiple of the charges paid for Medicare patients. Many N.C. hospital executives have denounced the plan, which they say will cause significant financial harm by reducing their revenue.

Hospitals charge different prices for various payer groups under contracts that are traditionally not shared publicly. Folwell criticizes that approach as too secretive and unfair to plans that wind up subsidizing other groups, including patients who aren’t able to pay their bills.

By covering more than 727,000 state employees and retirees, the State Health Plan is the largest payer group in North Carolina. Folwell says he wants to use that market power to force the state’s hospitals to seek greater efficiencies, noting health care inflation has soared in recent decades.

“As a community hospital, CaroMont Regional Medical Center is charged with providing high-quality care and advanced medicine on a local level,” Chris Peek, CaroMont Health’s CEO, said in an emailed statement. “The decision to participate in the State Health Plan Clear Pricing Project was driven by our commitment to the state employees who live and serve in our community. They are our friends, family and neighbors, and we felt an obligation to ensure they maintain access to care in-network.”

CaroMont’s main hospital has 435 beds and is 20 miles from the main Charlotte hospitals owned by Atrium Health and Novant Health, which dominate the Queen City’s health care industry. If neither of those large systems sign on to Folwell’s plan, state employees in CLT could conceivably receive “in-network” care at the Gastonia hospital.

Earlier this week, the State Health Plan said it was boosting payments by $116 million to medical providers as part of the “Clear Pricing Project” and reopening when providers can sign up for the network.

About 27,000 N.C. medical providers, mainly physicians, have agreed to participate in the network.

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