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FTC will continue to 'aggressively enforce' antitrust law, challenge hospital mergers under Trump

Analysts expect the Federal Trade Commission's campaign to challenge some hospital mergers on competitive grounds will continue under the Trump administration, according to Bloomberg.

Here are three thoughts from analysts regarding to the FTC's pursuit of hospital mergers under President Donald Trump.

1.  Maureen Ohlhausen, acting chairman of the FTC, has said she has "generally been supportive of antitrust enforcement" in challenging hospital mergers, according to the report.

During a Senate subcommittee hearing March 21, Ms. Ohlhausen said she "voted in favor of most of [the FTC's] enforcement, particularly in the pharmaceutical space, hospital mergers, challenging a wide variety of mergers," according to the report. However, the agency is currently three commissioners short, which may impact the vigor with which the agency pursues hospital merger enforcement until President Trump nominates additional individuals to the FTC.

2. The FTC's response to Harrisburg, Pa.-based PinnacleHealth System's proposed merger with Pittsburgh-based UPMC may indicate how the agency plans to pursue antitrust concerns under President Trump.

In prior instances, the FTC has "recruited the state attorney general from where the merger is happening to join the [lawsuit]," according to the report. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has expressed "concerns" about the potential merger, which may pose a red flag for the hospitals' affiliation plans.

3. The FTC already has two major "wins" under its belt within the last two years. Federal judges granted injunctions to halt the proposed mergers between Downers Grove, Ill.-based Advocate Health Care and Evanston, Ill.-based NorthShore University HealthSystem earlier this month and Penn State Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center and Harrisburg, Pa.-based PinnacleHealth System in October 2016.

"What they did in Chicago worked ... So the question becomes whether that same approach, applied to whatever data is available in another urban area, would come to the same outcome," said Jack Rovner, JD, an antitrust attorney and co-founder of law firm The Health Law Consultancy. "The FTC has definitely been on a roll the last several years."

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