ALBANY -- With a deadline just days away, state officials are sparring over a bill that would let Nassau Health Care Corp. join with North Shore-LIJ Health System to run certain facilities.
State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman's office is raising antitrust concerns about the bill, saying it would grant Nassau Health Care Corp. -- widely known as NuHealth -- and any partner blanket immunity from antitrust laws. Schneiderman aides said that could violate laws meant to protect patients and prevent one entity from accumulating too much market power.
"This bill gives NuHealth a blank check to engage in a huge swath of anticompetitive activities with no oversight," said Eric Stock, chief of the attorney general's Anti-Trust Bureau. "Bills like this are virtually unprecedented -- to single out any entity and give it broad authority to enter agreements with any number of partners."
But a key senator says that without permission to pursue such partnerships, NuHealth may become insolvent.
"They're ignoring the fact that they may put NuHealth out of business," said Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), chairman of the Senate Health Committee and sponsor of the bill along with Assemb. Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead).
Shelley Lotenberg, spokeswoman for NuHealth, said the bill "is important to NuHealth's future." She added: "It was passed unanimously by both the Assembly and the Senate, and it enjoys bipartisan support from the Long Island delegation."
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo must either sign or veto the bill by midnight Wednesday. A Cuomo aide said the measure is under review.
NuHealth is a public benefit corporation that includes Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility in Uniondale and five community health care centers. NuHealth has been working to strengthen ties to North Shore-LIJ.
Though the legislation doesn't specifically name North Shore-LIJ, it would clear the way for NuHealth to join forces with a private entity to operate the Patterson facility as well as the community centers. NuHealth and its partner could also negotiate rates with hospitals, physicians and insurance companies.
The legislation says that NuHealth "shall be immunized from liability under federal and state antitrust laws."
Stock called that an "overbroad and excessive" exemption.
"Nothing in the bill prevents . . . consumers from being abused," Stock said. He said his office isn't opposed to NuHealth partnerships in general, but that the state should weigh the specifics of any collaboration and then provide only "very narrow" antitrust exemptions.
Hannon called the attorney general's claims "ultra-technical, contradictory and wrong."
Hannon said he introduced the bill in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision this year that said states must specifically sign off on health care collaborations that might impact competition. He said even if Cuomo signs the bill, the state Health Department will still supervise its effect on the Long Island market.
The senator said claims that NuHealth and North Shore-LIJ would gain too much market power were dubious.