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School official calls Montana hospitals ’monopolies’



In testimony on a bill proposing a database on health care costs in Montana, an insurance executive Monday detailed what he said is "monopolistic, predatory price behavior" by one of the state's largest hospitals. "The truth is, most Montana hospitals operate with no competition; they are monopolies," said Eric Schindler, CEO of the Montana School Services Foundation, which oversees a health insurance trust for 136 school districts in Montana. "The trend toward an integrated model of hospitals (that also employs physicians) makes them even more of a monopoly." Schindler said Benefis Hospital in Great Falls, the second-largest hospital in the state, has increased its prices more than 30% in the past three years, both through direct price increases and by reducing the discount it gives as a "network" provider for insurance customers. The increases came in the wake of the 2006 lifting of a state ceiling on Benefis prices, which had been imposed in 1999 when two competing Great Falls hospitals merged to create Benefis, Schindler noted.
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