Minnesota lawmakers are moving to make the potential Sanford Health takeover of Fairview Health Services, including the University of Minnesota’s hospitals, as difficult as possible.
On Monday, several lawmakers sponsored bills they say would put a moratorium on the sale of University of Minnesota hospitals to any out-of-state company, which would halt South Dakota-based Sanford from buying Fairview. In addition, the chair of the House Commerce Committee is calling on Fairview executives to appear before a legislative hearing next week to answer for their plans.
The lawmakers’ actions are the latest signs of serious consternation over the newly disclosed talks between Sanford and Fairview. The potential deal to create a medical behemoth could harm not only Minnesota’s control of its own health systems but also the university’s teaching hospitals and mission, state officials said.
“These are decisions that will be made with huge public impact,” Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday.
Dayton praised Attorney General Lori Swanson’s careful look at the takeover. Swanson, whose office regulates nonprofit organizations like hospitals, held a Sunday hearing on the possible merger and plans to hold another one in two weeks.
He also voiced support for the University of Minnesota’s still nascent proposal to take over its hospitals itself. University officials met privately with several lawmakers on Monday to explain that plan.
The plan, which could require millions in state investment over time, was publicly disclosed after the Sanford-Fairview talks came to light. While the governor said he wants to know more about the university proposal, Dayton made clear he was already a fan.
If the university plans move forward, the result would be “an epicenter for medical care” in Minnesota, he said.
“That’s an opportunity we just can’t let go by,” the governor said.
As the governor talked glowingly of that proposal, lawmakers sharply questioned Sanford’s Fairview plans.
“I have huge concerns,” said Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights.
Atkins, the chair of the House Commerce Committee, asked Fairview action CEO Chuck Mooty to come before his committee on April 17 to explain the Sanford proposal.
He said he was particularly concerned about Fairview selling to an out-of-state company after managing the university hospitals for nearly two decades.
“It should not surprise you that I, along with most of my colleagues in the Minnesota House, have heard from many people with deep concerns that an institution of such great importance to Minnesota might be controlled by a board in Sioux Falls,” he wrote to Mooty on Monday.
Atkins and Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, proposed a measure to block any non-Minnesota company from controlling University of Minnesota hospitals until at least the end of 2014, if not in perpetuity. Atkins said he had heard from several senators interested in similar legislation.
Separately, a bipartisan duo of lawmakers proposed requiring Fairview to repay the state for “any charitable assets the hospital system has received from the state,” should it sell to an out-of-state company.
“I’m trying to become one more voice to say that we better think a lot about this before it goes forward,” said Rep. Jim Abeler, a Republican from Anoka and a former chairman of the House health and human services committee. He partnered with DFL Rep. Peter Fischer of Maplewood to put together the payback measure.
Abeler, like Dayton, is a fan of the university’s plan to take back its hospitals.
“We trust the U,” he said.