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UPDATE: TDH deems Wellmont/MSHA COPA application complete

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State health and legal officials announced Monday a Certificate of Public Advantage (COPA) application by Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance is complete.

The marks the first movement in the years-long process to merge the region's two largest health care providers since Wellmont and MSHA withdrew their initial COPA request in January to make additional submissions to the official petition.

Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner made the announcement after consultation with Attorney General Herb Slatery's office. Dreyzehner said in a prepared statement that more evaluations are still to come in determining if the COPA would provide an undisputable public benefit to the people of Northeast Tennessee.

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"As charged by the Tennessee General Assembly through statute, TDH will determine whether the likely benefits of a merger would outweigh by clear and convincing evidence any disadvantages caused by a potential reduction in competition in the region," Monday's statement said. "Those benefits include improvements in geographic service area population health, regional health outcomes, health care costs, health care quality and health care access."

A public hearing on this next step is scheduled for Tuesday, July 18 beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Northeast State Community College. A deadline for the COPA decision, mandated by state statute, is Sept. 19.

MSHA and Wellmont produced a joint statement Monday:

"We are pleased that our Certificate of Public Advantage application in Tennessee has been deemed complete. We appreciate the hard work Commissioner Dreyzehner and his staff have done over the past several months to evaluate the supplemental information that provides a more detailed picture of how our proposed merger will specifically benefit the health of the populations we serve. We are committed to continuing to work with officials in both states as they consider the merits of our proposal, and we look forward to the next steps in the process."

The Federal Trade Commission formally opposed the proposed merger in October, citing a "near-monopoly" over inpatient service in the facilities the new healthcare organization would operate in Tennessee and in neighboring Southwest Virginia.

Wellmont and MSHA said the FTC made several omissions and mistakes in their objections to the merger.

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