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Intermountain and Sanford control 70 hospitals across the West and Midwest. Photo: Intermountain Healthcare

Intermountain Healthcare and Sanford Health have agreed to merge, creating a system of 70 hospitals, hundreds of physician practices, and two health insurance companies across the West and Midwest, pending state and federal regulatory reviews.

Why it matters: A combined Intermountain-Sanford system would generate $15 billion of annual revenue, making it bigger than BlackRock or Uber, and would highlight how hospital systems are still pushing to consolidate despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Between the lines: Intermountain and Sanford have both benefited from coronavirus bailout funding, registering a combined $300 million in taxpayer-funded payments, according to financial statements.

  • Intermountain and Sanford, both tax-exempt systems, have also registered operating and net profits in the first half of this year, despite the slowdown in care due to the pandemic.

What they're saying: Intermountain CEO Marc Harrison said in a statement the merger will allow the two systems to "make health care more affordable for our communities."

  • Reality check: Academic literature has consistently shown hospital mergers lead to higher prices and no improvement in care quality.

Flashback: At this year's JPMorgan Healthcare Conference, Harrison said, "We have an absolute responsibility to make health care as affordable as possible," right before Intermountain's CFO touted the system's cash surplus and patient collections.

  • Last year, Sanford also tried merging with another large regional hospital system, UnityPoint Health, before calling the deal off.

Go deeper

Updated Nov 24, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: Health equity and the next four years

On Tuesday, November 24 Axios' Caitlin Owens hosted a conversation on the importance of health equity in the new presidential administration, featuring Inova Loudoun Hospital President Deborah Addo, Harvard Opinion Research Program director and professor Robert Blendon and GE Healthcare's U.S. and Canada CEO Everett Cunningham.

Professor Robert Blendon discussed the outsized impact of the pandemic on minorities in America, highlighting the severe health and economic consequences.

  • On the precarity of the economic situation: “We have people who were hanging on by the fingernail when there was federal aid, and there’s no federal aid [now]. We’re about to stop the limited protection that you can’t be evicted if you can’t pay your rent or utility.”
  • On how dire the COVID-19 pandemic is for communities of color in the coming months: "I want to be very cautious here. Unless a number of things are done on an emergency basis in the next six months, a lot of Black and Hispanic Americans are going to die."

Everett Cunningham unpacked how COVID-19 has changed the field of medicine, and how the shift to telemedicine can be a part of expanding health access.

  • On improving rural health care: "Irrespective of which zip code you're in, you should get the highest quality of care... [Telemedicine] allows us to reach out to the rural patients and give them that same quality of care."

Deborah Addo discussed policy solutions to address and help reduce public health inequities .

  • On paid leave as public health: "If you know that if you come to work ill you'll be paid, but if you stay home and you're ill, you won't be paid—that's the difference between making rent and keeping the lights on [or not]. It's unlikely that you are going to let your employer know you're not feeling well. We need to help to remove that barrier."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with USAFacts Steve Ballmer and discussed USAFacts' efforts to track the spread of COVID-19 around the country.

  • "We've got a map here that shows how COVID cases per capita keeps moving: we started in the east, then south, then moved to the west. And now there are counties in North Dakota where one out of five people in the county have had COVID. So I'm very worried about it."

Thank you USAFacts for sponsoring this event.

1 hour ago - Sports

The end of COVID’s grip on sports may be in sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Packed stadiums and a more normal fan experience could return by late 2021, NIAID director Anthony Fauci said yesterday.

Why it matters: If Fauci's prediction comes true, it could save countless programs from going extinct next year.

Trump's 2024 begins

Trump speaking to reporters in the White House on Thanksgiving. Photo: Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump is likely to announce he'll run again in 2024, perhaps before this term even ends, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: Trump has already set in motion two important strategies to stay relevant and freeze out other Republican rivals.