‘US Congressional aid results in hospital mergers, pricey medical care’

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Washington, May 23 (IANS) Generous Covid-19 aid from Congress has enabled some of the largest US hospital chains to merge weakened competitors, inflating medical expanses and making it harder for ordinary people to receive treatment, a media report said.

“More consolidation by several major hospital systems enhanced their market prowess in many regions of the US, even as rural hospitals and underserved communities were overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients and struggled to stay afloat,” Xinhua news agency quoted The New York Times report as saying on Saturday.

“The buying spree is likely to prompt further debate and scrutiny of the Provider Relief Fund, a package of $178 billion in congressional aid that drew sharp criticism early on for allocating so much to the wealthiest hospital systems, and that had no limits on mergers and acquisitions,” it said.

“It was not the intent to be a capital infusion to the largest and most financially stable providers to allow them to simply grow their slice of market share,” House Representative Katie Porter, Democrat of California, was quoted as saying in the report.

Meanwhile, hospitals say the Covid-19 aid played no role in these deals, some of which were in the works before the pandemic.

Major hospital chains also argue that their size and reach helped them better care for patients, allowing them to divert supplies and people to hard-hit areas during the health crisis, according to the report.

Lawmakers are pushing for greater oversight of hospitals.

In a hearing on May 19, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, asked for more resources so regulators could tackle “the vicious cycle” of hospital consolidation.

“When mergers are anti-competitive, they must be stopped,” she said.

According to the report, major fund receivers are all buying or already bought some smaller hospitals.

The relief money they won from Congress was usually counted in billions of dollars.