By Dan McDonald
For Hometown News
BREVARD - Two of the largest health providers in the area are in negotiations to merge, a deal that would create a medical goliath affecting Brevard County residents.
Health First, which operates four not-for-profit hospitals - Cape Canaveral Hospital in Cocoa Beach, Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Palm Bay Hospital in Palm Bay, and Viera Hospital in Viera, - is seeking to purchase Melbourne Internal Medical Associates, a network of primary care physicians, with 141 doctors in 30 specialties that sees patients in 16 different locations throughout the Space Coast.
While the deal would impact many, if not most, of Brevard's residents, both sides are staying tight-lipped about the negotiations.
Health First referred media inquiries to the following statement released by Steven Johnson, president and CEO:
"Health First is currently in discussions, regarding a potential acquisition of the independent multi-specialty physician group, MIMA. As our healthcare system moves forward, we'll be moving into an era of value-based purchasing, which includes value-based delivery networks and integrated delivery networks. The key within that is having close, aligned relationships with physicians - both primary care and specialty physicians."
Both Health First and MIMA are excited about the possibility of joining forces, Mr. Johnson continued, but said transactions such as this are "extremely complicated," and the deal has not yet been finalized.
"We're hopeful that we can find an arrangement that makes sense for everyone," he wrote.
MIMA, which was formed in Brevard County in 1969, is also not saying much regarding the ongoing negotiations.
"We are in negotiations with Health First," said Dr. Nelson Sang, MIMA's chief financial officer, chief information officer and a member of the board of directors.
"But, I'm not on the negotiations committee, and really can't say much about what is going on," he added. "I do think the purpose of the deal is to cut costs from our combined operations and seek savings that can be passed onto our patients."
Dr. Sang referred any additional questions about the potential merger to Al O'Connell, MIMA's chief administration officer.
Mr. O'Connell's office provided no comment, when asked about the deal, which first came to public light when Mr. Johnson of Health First posted an online video in early August, intended to answer some of the rumors that had been circulating among staff.
In the YouTube post, Mr. Johnson is shown saying, "Yes, we are indeed having discussions - and serious discussions - with MIMA.
But, he added, there is no timeline to finish what promises to be a complicated negotiation.
While the huge companies struggle with coming to terms with each other, some patients are left worried about the devil in the details.
"Well I have a few questions about the merger," said Lisa Neal, a Melbourne resident and 10-year MIMA patient. "No. 1 is: Will my Etna Insurance, which is accepted by MIMA, still be accepted by Health First? And, secondly, how will this affect the independent physicians in Brevard County? My primary physician is at MIMA, but my specialists are independents. These are questions that everyone should be concerned with."
"Right now, the entire health insurance question is so complicated and has so many unknowns," Ms. Neal added. "I'm not thinking that this is a good merger, on top of the existing uncertainties. They say they'll save money on an economy of scale, but who can really say? And, will that savings - if there are any - be passed onto patients? I guess, like everyone else, we'll just have to wait and see what happens."