In a packed courtroom on the 10th floor of Suffolk Superior Courthouse, the question on the docket appeared to be a simple matter: Should a judge in the Business Litigation Division say yes or no to a deal negotiated between Partners HealthCare and Attorney General Martha Coakley?
In any standard consent judgment, the judge would default to the attorney general.
But again Monday, as she did in September, Judge Janet Sanders made clear she will not say yes, no, or come back with a revised deal until she understands the details and possible consequences. Sanders wants to determine if consumers and the state would benefit from Partners’ proposed expansion.
She asked dozens of questions that suggest she is skeptical. And at the end of the day, she and Coakley engaged in what came across as a politely combative exchange. More on that later.
For an example of Sanders’ questions, let’s take the price caps. Under the agreement, payments to Partners could not increase more than inflation for six-and-a-half years.
Would Partners still have the highest-paid hospitals in the state? Sanders asked.
Yes, probably, said the AG’s office, except for Boston Children’s Hospital. This agreement doesn’t claim to correct historical problems, said Will Matlack, chief of the AG’s anti-trust division.
What happens, Sanders continued, if Partners jacks up prices in year seven? By then, Partners will be even bigger, and could demand more money than they can now, she suggested.
That’s speculation, said the AG’s office. And it’s not reasonable speculation, said an attorney for Partners, because there are lots of dynamics that could change the market between now and then. Continue reading