Jonathan Bilyk Jun. 22, 2016, 11:46pm

Saying any further delay would put them behind other hospital groups expanding services in the Chicago area, and keep them from offering health insurance plans to local businesses for a full year, Advocate and NorthShore health systems have asked a federal appeals court to hurry along the process of hearing arguments from federal and state regulators determined to stop the two Chicago area health care organizations from merging.

On June 20, attorneys for Downers Grove-based Advocate Health and Evanston-based NorthShore University Health System filed a motion with the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, asking the judges to expedite action on the regulators’ appeal of a federal judge’s refusal to slap a preliminary injunction on the health care systems’ merger process.

“While the Hospitals (Advocate and NorthShore) wait, their competitors continue to merge with one another, expand operations, and engage in competitive repositioning in order to attract patients,” the motion said. “Any delay in finalizing the proposed transaction provides these competitors a significant advantage over the Hospitals.”

The motion for expedited appeal also noted a delay beyond the end of July would also jeopardize the proposed new health care system’s ability to market a health insurance product Advocate and NorthShore have created, but cannot provide until the merger is completed. Advocate and NorthShore said they believe this delay will also cost consumers, who might benefit from the new health insurance product.

Federal regulators responded by asking the Seventh Circuit to approve a process that would wrap up a month later, at the end of August.

The actions come following a decision by the Federal Trade Commission and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to continue their fight to block the merger of the two Chicago area health care systems, citing antitrust concerns.

The regulators on June 16 appealed to the Seventh Circuit the June 14 decision of U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso, who said he could not grant the regulators’ request for an injunction amid his belief that the FTC would not prevail at trial.

While the FTC had said they believed the merger of the two health systems, which has been sought since 2014, would harm consumers and violate federal antitrust rules, Advocate and NorthShore argued the FTC had incorrectly analyzed and misrepresented the market they serve, intentionally excluding key competitors, including Northwestern Medicine, from their analyses. This skewed the results, the health systems said.

Before filing the most recent request for expedited appeal, the health systems said they approached the FTC with their request to hurry the process, but the FTC refused. The health systems said the FTC told them they could not accommodate the compressed process because it conflicted with the schedule of one of their lawyers.

“Scheduling conflicts for a single attorney cannot justify the harm to the Hospitals and the public that would be caused by significant delay,” the health systems wrote. “Moreover, Appellants’ proposed briefing schedule would not allow the Court sufficient time to consider the Parties’ briefs prior to oral argument even if it were held early during the Court’s September Term. Plainly, Appellants prefer that the Hospitals remain in limbo for as long as possible.”

Advocate and NorthShore are represented by attorneys with the firms of Winston & Strawn, and Drinker, Biddle & Reath, each of Chicago.

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