Wellness in brief: Lawsuit alleges Mission Health monopoly

NO COMPETITION: Sen. Julie Mayfield of Buncombe County supports the plaintiffs alleging Mission Health has a monopoly. Photo courtesy of Mayfield

Lawsuit alleges Mission Health monopoly

Six residents of Western North Carolina filed a class-action lawsuit against HCA Healthcare and Mission Health System on Aug. 10, alleging restraint of trade and unlawful monopolization.

The plaintiffs say they have paid higher health insurance premiums, copays and deductibles than have residents of surrounding areas due to Mission’s ability to control prices in WNC. Following its purchase of Mission Health System in 2019, HCA Healthcare holds approximately 90% of the market share for general inpatient hospital care in the Buncombe and Madison county markets.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants “have monopolized, and continue to monopolize” health care, in violation of the North Carolina Constitution and North Carolina General Statutes. It asks the Buncombe County Superior Court to grant plaintiffs and other members of the class unspecified damages and restitution and for Mission Health System to provide greater pricing transparency.

In a statement to media, Mission Health/HCA North Carolina Division spokesperson Nancy Lindell wrote, “We are committed to caring for Western North Carolina, as demonstrated through more than $330 million in charity care and uninsured discounts we provided in 2020, expansion of hospital services including the opening of the North Tower, a new pediatric ER and securing land for a new 120-bed behavioral health hospital.”

The statement continued, “Further, we have invested in our colleagues with onboarding nearly 1,200 new members this year and providing more than $3 million in student loan and tuition reimbursement in 2020. Mission Health is committed to the health and well-being of every person who comes to us for care, and we are proud of our dedicated hospital teams that are facing the many challenges of this pandemic and the exceptional care they have provided to our patients.”

In an Aug. 10 call with the media in response to the filing, Sen. Julie Mayfield and Rep. Brian Turner, Democrats who represent Buncombe County in the N.C. General Assembly, voiced their support of the lawsuit. Sen. Kevin Corbin, a Republican who represents Haywood and six other western counties, also joined an Aug. 10 statement with Mayfield and Turner supporting the filing.

“Over the last 2 1/2 years since the purchase of Mission Hospital by HCA, we have heard and seen a deterioration in the staffing and care at the hospital and found an increase in the cost associated with health care at Mission facilities and in general in insurance across the region,” said Mayfield on the call. “This lawsuit is not the be-all, end-all, fix-all of the problem, but we do hope it is a strong step in the right direction of addressing many of the issues and concerns that we have heard about.”

The full text of the lawsuit is available at avl.mx/a9p.

Ingles to offer third doses of COVID-19 vaccine for immunocompromised

Ingles Markets is offering third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at pharmacy locations to eligible immunocompromised patients.

Ingles pharmacies currently administer both Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. The Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine on Aug. 23; both vaccines have been approved by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for use in third doses to boost immunity in those with weakened immune systems. (No recommendations have been issued regarding additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.) A third dose may be administered starting 28 days after the second dose.

In a statement on Aug. 18, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said booster shots for all Americans who have received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, to be administered eight months after the second dose, should be available beginning the week of Monday, Sept. 20. A booster shot for the J&J vaccine is also being considered.

Ingles Pharmacy continues to offer first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for people age 12 and older. All doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are free. Appointments are not required, but customers may register for an appointment at avl.mx/aan.

MAHEC president retires

Dr. Jeffrey Heck, CEO of the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center, announced his retirement on Aug. 17. Heck joined MAHEC in 2004 to chair the Department of Family Medicine and support the establishment of a branch campus of the UNC School of Medicine. He became president and CEO in 2012, and during his tenure he oversaw the establishment of UNC Sciences at MAHEC, an interdisciplinary collaboration with area colleges. Following his retirement, Heck will continue to see patients at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community in Asheville. MAHEC’s board of directors is actively seeking Heck’s successor.

Migraine, headache clinic opens in Candler

A clinic dedicated to treating migraines, chronic headaches and light sensitivity has opened in Candler. Soma Vision Center for Migraines and Headaches is operated by Dr. Jamin Quilla, who has seen the prescription of color-filtering eyeglass lenses for migraine patients improve their symptoms. In addition to migraines, the clinic also treats chronic vertigo and post-concussion symptoms.

The clinic is at 1427 Smokey Park Highway. More information is available by phone at 828-384-0578 or online at SomaVisionHeadacheCenter.com.

Mission Hospital McDowell to expand

Mission Hospital McDowell in Marion, a part of the Mission Health system, is receiving $20 million in funding from HCA Healthcare for a building expansion that will add 11 beds. In an Aug. 13 press release, Mission Hospital McDowell CEO Carol Wolfenbarger said construction of the two-story tower is anticipated to begin in the spring.

Along with increasing capacity, the addition will provide space for future health care needs. The current three-floor, 105,000-square-foot hospital opened in March 2018.

Vaccination news

  • Free COVID-19 vaccines, including booster shots for immunocompromised individuals, are available from Buncombe County Health and Human Services Department 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday, at 40 Coxe Ave. Vaccines are available for anyone 12 and older. No appointment is necessary, and no ID is required. More information is available at BuncombeCounty.org/Covid-19.
  • The Mountain Area Health Education Center is one of 80 vaccine providers in the WNC Vaccine Acceleration Consortium, which is collaborating with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on a mobile vaccine unit in WNC. No appointment is necessary. The schedule for the mobile vaccine unit is available at MAHEC.net/Covid19Info.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs expanded its vaccine mandate on Aug. 13 for Veterans Health Administration employees, contractors and volunteers, including staff at Asheville’s Charles George VA Medical Center. Personnel who come into contact with VA patients have eight weeks to provide proof of vaccination status. VA employees are eligible for vaccination at all facilities. More information is available at VAgov/Asheville-Health-Care.

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About Jessica Wakeman
Jessica Wakeman is an Asheville-based reporter for Mountain Xpress. She has been published in Rolling Stone, Glamour, New York magazine's The Cut, Bustle and many other publications. She was raised in Connecticut and holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from New York University. Follow me @jessicawakeman

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