In a ruling with the potential to shape key aspects of President Obama’s health-care reform, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia has upheld the right of federal regulators to halt a large health-care merger in the Harrisburg area.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said the Federal Trade Commission has authority to halt the merger of Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Pinnacle Health System because a combination could cause health-care costs to rise.

The unanimous decision puts the planned merger of Pinnacle Health and Hershey Medical Center, both in Dauphin County, on hold until the FTC can conduct its own detailed analysis of the merger’s impact on health-care prices in the area.

“This is an important development in the law that health-care providers will need to be aware of in future transactions,” said Leslie John, an antitrust lawyer at Ballard Spahr who focuses on the health-care industry.

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