Coakley: Partners agrees to price cap under deal allowing it to buy Hallmark Health Centers

Government And Institutions Associated Press

Attorney General Martha Coakley said Partners HealthCare has agreed to cap prices at Hallmark Health Centers for six and a half years if it's allowed to acquire Hallmark under a revised deal.

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Coakley's office renegotiated the agreement after the state's Health Policy Commission criticized part of the original deal to allow Partners to acquire Hallmark, which owns Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford and Melrose-Wakefield Hospital.

The original agreement included a provision that allowed Coakley and Partners to reopen negotiations if the commission determined there would be a "likelihood of materially increased prices" as a result of Partners' acquisition of Hallmark.

Coakley said Thursday that her office pushed for the cap. The agreement is part of Coakley's anti-trust investigation into Partners.

Coakley said Partners also has jointly agreed to maintain the current level of psychiatric and behavioral health services at its Hallmark and North Shore facilities.

"These additional concessions will mitigate the potential for higher prices related to this transaction and ensure that mental health treatment remains fully accessible to the surrounding community," Coakley said Thursday in a written statement.

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The revised agreement was filed in Suffolk Superior Court on Thursday. Coakley said the amended consent judgment is expected to be considered by Judge Janet Sanders. The next court date is Monday.

If approved by the court, the consent judgment will also resolve the antitrust investigation by Coakley's office into Partners and its acquisition of South Shore Hospital.

Coakley also said Thursday that her office filed its formal response to the more than 100 comments received as part of the public comment period ordered by the court.

Coakley, who is running for governor, has been criticized over the deal by her political rivals.

Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker, the former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, has said the agreement is too complicated and too hard to enforce.

Baker has said the deal should have focused on two or three items, like requiring Partners to post the prices of its medical services and freezing any expansion of its physician network.

Under the agreement a monitor — selected by Coakley's office and paid for by Partners — will ensure that Partners complies with the terms of the consent judgment for the duration of the agreement.

If Partners violates the terms of the consent judgment, the organization could be held in contempt of court and face penalties, Coakley has said.

Partners HealthCare is Massachusetts' largest hospital and physicians' network.