New Hanover Regional Medical Center has been put up for sale. The county-owned hospital system, approved by voters in the early 1960s and opened in 1967, is doing well. So well, in fact, that last year, NHRMC posted a nearly-$80 million increase in its net position. The year before that, it finished with a $98 million surplus – that’s revenues over expenditures -- essentially the profit – folded back into NHRMC.
On September 3rd, 2019, New Hanover County Commissioners passed a Resolution of Intent to Sell, followed by a Request For Proposal. According to a county press release, the actual sale could take more than a year to complete. Officials say in the release that any buyer would have to show how they would advance current NHRMC priorities – including improving access to care and wellness through more consumer-centric options, advancing the value of the care through higher quality and lower costs, effectively managing public health to not only treat the sick but keep people well, and achieving health equity through community partnerships and activities that remove barriers to care, enabling residents to achieve optimal health.
A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that examines the effects of hospital consolidation on prices, costs, and quality of care across the nation finds that, “Hospital consolidation generally results in higher prices. This is true across geographic markets and different data sources. When hospitals merge in already concentrated markets, the price increase can be dramatic, often exceeding 20 percent.”
Researchers consistently find hospital competition improves quality of care.
Health Care Economist Marvin Gaynor of Carnegie Mellon told Congress last year that medical prices are "high and still rising, they vary in seemingly incoherent ways...there are serious concerns about the quality of care, and the system is sluggish and unresponsive, lacking the innovation and dynamism that characterize much of the rest of our economy."
One of the reasons for this state of health care in the U.S., says Gaynor, is lack of competition.
Since local officials announced their intention to explore a sale on July 23rd, 2019, the public discussion has evolved. It began with sale enthusiasts touting a roughly-$1 billion windfall for the county. It took more than a week for concerned local stakeholders to get their voices heard – and even now – about two weeks after the initial announcement, opponents and skeptics of the sale – are just beginning to make their cases for more information and a slower process.
WHQR covered the process and debate of a sale, and continues to report on this story.