St. Patrick Hospital

Providence St. Patrick Hospital

JOSH GEIGER/UM School of Journalism

Ascension Health and Providence St. Joseph Health, owner of Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, are in talks about a merger that could create the largest hospital chain in the United States, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A deal between the two Catholic nonprofits would give the combined entity 191 hospitals in 27 states and annual revenue of $44.8 billion, the Journal reported.

Ascension, based in St. Louis County, Missouri, runs 141 hospitals in 22 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Washington Post. Providence St. Joseph Health, based in suburban Seattle, runs 50 hospitals in seven states.

The Journal reported that nearly 60 percent of U.S. hospitals are private nonprofits, which is a status it said exempts them from some taxes but requires they provide community benefits such as free care for low-income patients.

For patients, the Journal said consolidations could mean more tightly managed networks of medical care, which proponents say could reduce unnecessary spending but critics fear could raise prices and limit patient choice.

Ascension and Providence declined to comment on the Journal's story.

Representatives from Providence St. Patrick Hospital did not return a request for comment from the Missoulian Wednesday. The parent company also owns St. Joseph Medical Center in Polson.

The Journal said the two have been in talks about a deal for months but no agreement had been reached.

The reported merger talks come as Congress is wrestling with the future of the Affordable Care Act, consumers are complaining about the prices of prescription drugs and other health-related companies are proposing mergers and acquisitions.

On Dec. 3, CVS Health Corp. and Aetna Inc. proposed a $69 billion merger, arguing it would enable the companies to tackle soaring health care spending by offering lower cost medical services in pharmacies.

That deal, the year’s largest, would combine one of the nation’s biggest pharmacy benefits managers and pharmacy operators with one of its oldest health insurers.

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