BEVERLY — A newly formed coalition is opposing the proposed hospital merger led by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health, saying the plan will raise costs for everyone and hurt communities of color in particular.
In a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Thursday, the Make Healthcare Affordable Coalition said the “mega merger” could lead to the closing of community hospitals and health centers outside this new network that serve low-income people in places like Boston, Lowell and Lawrence.
“We urge the Department of Public Health to deny approval of this merger, which would control one-of-three hospitals and reduce access to community hospitals that serve Latinos, African Americans, Cape Verdeans, Chinese, Haitian and Vietnamese residents,” the letter said.
The proposed merger involves 13 hospitals and would be one of the largest in the state’s history. On the North Shore, it would include Lahey Medical Center in Peabody, Beverly Hospital, Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, and Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport.
The proposal received a generally favorable response from speakers at a public hearing in Gloucester on Dec. 6. But Alec Loftus, a spokesman for the Make Healthcare Affordable Coalition, said many people from urban areas, including non-English-speaking people, could not make it to the hearing to express their thoughts.
The coalition said Beth Israel and Lahey serve predominantly wealthy communities. A merger would give them increased negotiating power with insurance companies and physician networks, making it difficult for community hospitals in urban areas to compete and causing them to lose doctors, the coalition said.
“That means people in our low-income communities and communities of color are going to steadily see their community hospitals close and lose access to their doctor,” the coalition said. “It is the exact opposite direction that we should be going in health care right now.”
Hospital officials have said the merger will increase efficiency and lower costs for patients. In a statement in response to the coalition’s letter, hospital officials said the new system would reduce health care costs by $16 million per year if it attracts just 1 percent of patients that are now using higher-cost systems.
“By coming together our systems can further invest in the local clinicians and hospitals that communities rely on for care in ways we cannot individually,” the statement said.
Last week, the state’s Health Policy Commission voted to authorize a review of the merger’s impact on costs, quality and access to care. The commission said the new entity would provide 25 percent of the state’s inpatient care, just behind Partners HealthCare, the state’s largest health care system.
Loftus described the Make Healthcare Affordable Coalition as a “grassroots” organization that formed in opposition to the proposed merger. It has 45 members, according to the letter. Loftus is vice president of Archipelago Strategies Group, a minority-owned consulting agency in Boston. He has served as a senior adviser to the state Secretary of Health and Human Services and worked as a spokesman for former Gov. Deval Patrick.
The merger proposal is being reviewed by the Department of Public Health. A spokeswoman said the agency had no comment on the coalition’s letter.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.