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By Mark Tosczak
A day after a UNC Health Care spokesperson said the health system couldn’t affect inflation or other variables related to health costs, he clarified his remarks.
“I didn’t mean to imply that UNC Health Care has no influence on costs,” said Alan Wolf, a spokesperson for UNC Health Care, in response to an inquiry from North Carolina Health News.
“As a provider of health care services, UNC Health Care constantly works to reduce or limit rising medical costs,” he said in an email. “However, we are subject to cost fluctuations for a wide range of products, such as life-saving medications and medical supplies. Unforeseen circumstances, such as the recent hurricanes that disrupted IV bag production, can cause spikes in operational costs. Those are just a few examples of the many factors that contribute to rising medical costs.”
On Tuesday, State Treasurer Dale Folwell called for a $1 billion performance bond as a condition of allowing a proposed joint operating agreement between UNC and Atrium Health, formerly Carolinas HealthCare, to go through.
Folwell said the bond would act as a guarantee that the merger wouldn’t raise costs for N.C. taxpayers or the state’s employee health plan, which Folwell oversees.
Last month, Folwell expressed his misgivings about the merger before the UNC Board of Governors, who are considering the merger.
“Anything that impacts the accessibility or affordability of health care for the people that I have a constitutional fiduciary responsibility to serve then I get concerned about it,” Folwell told the university governors. “Last year, I estimate that the State Health Plan spent almost $500 million with the two entities discussing being merged, I’m trying to sustain these plans.”
The deal, which was first announced last summer, has raised numerous questions about what the impact might be on health care costs in North Carolina.
In response to Folwell’s statement, Wolf said the health system doesn’t “control inflation or other variables associated with the cost of care.”
When Carolinas and UNC first announced their plan last year, which they call a joint operating agreement, not a merger, they said they expected to finalize the deal by the end of 2017. That deadline has been pushed back and they say they’re now working toward a March 31 deadline.
In the meantime, Carolinas has moved forward with other big initiatives. On Feb. 7 it announced it was rebranding itself as Atrium Health. The move gives the system a name that’s not tied to any specific geographic locale.
The next day, Atrium announced a merger with Macon, Ga.-based Navicent Health.