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FTC to assess impact of consolidation in healthcare

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | January 25, 2021
Business Affairs
The FTC has launched a study into the effects of consolidation among physician groups and healthcare facilities on the healthcare market and competition
The Federal Trade Commission is investigating the impact of consolidation among physician groups and healthcare facilities as part of its decision to revamp its merger retrospective program.

The independent U.S. agency is collecting information from Aetna, Anthem, Florida Blue, Cigna Corporation, Health Care Service Corporation and United Healthcare to study how mergers and acquisitions affect competition and the proper functioning of healthcare markets. All six insurance companies will provide the FTC with patient-level commercial claims data from between 2015 and 2020 for inpatient, outpatient and physician services in 15 U.S. states.

"Traditional solo physician practices and small single-specialty physician group practices are rapidly being replaced by large multi-specialty physician group practices or physician group practices that are owned or employed by hospital systems. These changes have been driven, in part, by mergers and acquisitions involving physician practices, which potentially raise antitrust concerns. But despite the large number of mergers and acquisitions occurring in physician markets, relatively little is known about how these mergers affect competition," an FTC spokesperson told HCB News.

The claims data will be used to study physician practice mergers, hospital acquisitions of physician practices and the impact of healthcare facility consolidation that took place during this period.

The decision to revamp the program was announced in September as an initiative to expand and formalize the FTC’s Bureau of Economics retrospective research efforts and the studies it has conducted on consummated mergers over the last 35 years. The Bureau is seeking to expand the program by addressing antitrust questions not extensively studied in previous retrospective merger analyses and applying them to industries not yet studied; providing more insight on what can be learned for enforcement; and communicating more openly and transparently about the effects of mergers and performance of different tools to antitrust scholars and practitioners.

The commission is authorized, and successfully voted by 5-0 to issue Orders to File a Special Report by Section 6(b) of the FTC Act, which outlaws unfair methods of competition and unfair acts or practices that affect commerce.

The aim behind relaunching the merger retrospective program is to boost the number of retrospective studies both inside and outside the agency so that the FTC can test its analytical tools and enhance its enforcement effort. "Going forward, the studies will inform FTC antitrust enforcement policies. For example, they will help us assess the competitive implications of future mergers," said the spokesperson.

The Bureau of Economics will publish the findings of the study on healthcare consolidation in accordance with the FTC’s confidentiality rules.

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