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State treasurer pans Wake Forest Baptist-Atrium combination as anti-consumer
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State treasurer pans Wake Forest Baptist-Atrium combination as anti-consumer

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When Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center announced plans in April 2019 to create a second medical school in Charlotte with Atrium Health, it came as an unnerving development for state Treasurer Dale Folwell.

Folwell, speaking as a Winston-Salem resident, said at that time he was concerned about the ultimate local outcome of a Wake Forest Baptist-Atrium collaboration. His mother worked as a phone operator at N.C. Baptist Hospital.

“Wake Forest Baptist has been a beacon for our community, for northwest North Carolina and our region for decades,” Folwell said. “Reading through this press release, taking their own words, could lead some to conclude that’s in jeopardy.”

On Friday, Folwell said the strategic combination announced by the two systems has stoked his level of concern.

"Atrium has tried to have multiple spouses in North Carolina for the last three years," Folwell said.

Folwell cited Atrium and Cone ending in February a 10-year Atrium management contract with Cone that began in June 2012. He termed that ending "a divorce."

Atrium moved very close to the altar with UNC Hospitals of Chapel Hill, in part because the potential of UNC Hospitals opening a hospital in Charlotte. Their negotiations began in August 2017 and ended in March 2018.

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The Atrium-UNC Hospitals courtship had a spillover effect into the Triad since at that time UNC Hospitals owned and operated High Point's hospital. Six days after Atrium and UNC Hospitals ended their negotiations, UNC Hospitals agreed to sell High Point to Wake Forest Baptist.

"I have seen them (Atrium) run this play," Folwell said. "As I said in April (2019), this was never only about the medical school. It’s about higher reimbursements and profits.

"Evidence will show that at the end of the day, possibly politicians and a separately a handful of people will personally make millions off this transaction, while the quality of health care from the world-renowned Baptist Hospital will decrease and prices will go up."

Folwell also chose to speak in his official role as overseer of the State Health Plan.

The SHP has more than 727,000 participants that include current and retired state employees, teachers and legislators. It is North Carolina’s largest purchaser of medical and pharmaceutical services.

"This (combination) greatly concerns me as their largest customer on behalf of those that teach, protect and serve North Carolinians," Folwell said.

“No one has ever been able to produce a report that this kind of merger is better for consumers, increases transparency or lowers costs for patients."

Folwell called on state Attorney General Josh Stein and the U.S. Justice Department "to start investigating the trade practices and cartel-like activities of these so-called not-for-profit organizations."

"After all, section 34 of the N.C. constitution says that perpetuities and monopolies are contrary to the genius of a free state and shall not be allowed," Folwell said.

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@rcraverWSJ

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