FTC Official Addresses Physician-Hospital Mergers, ACO Policies

Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill discussed the FTC's policies surrounding accountable are organizations and antitrust laws at a recent speech in Washington, D.C., according to a National Law Review article.

Ms. Brill's remarks centered on the tension between the healthcare reform law, which encourages provider collaboration, and specifically ACOs. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act encourages hospitals to partner to reduce healthcare costs and improve quality, efficiency and care coordination. The FTC, however, must still uphold competition and scrutinize transactions that may violate antitrust law. As a result, many hospitals and health systems feel as though they face two different regulatory messages from the government.

Ms. Brill said "legitimate collaborative activities" between providers are not an antitrust issue, as they promote lower costs and improved quality, according to the report. She also noted hospitals can form joint ventures or use other alignment strategies short of acquiring physicians or merging with them to work toward accountable care.

However, the FTC "has increased its enforcement activity with respect to hospital acquisitions of physician practice groups," looking in particular when one hospital has a lot of specialists, the report stated.

In May 2012, the FTC announced the redoubling of its efforts to prevent hospital mergers that may leave patients with insufficient local options. The mission had a double-aim to uphold antitrust law and, consequentially, reign in healthcare costs. Some of the agency's challenges to hospital transactions have centered around hospitals' physician practice acquisitions, as well.

Read the four circumstances likely to raise concerns of anticompetitive behavior related to provider-payor relationships here, from the FTC's guidelines for commercial and Medicare ACOs, released in Oct. 2012.

More Articles on Hospital-Physician Transactions:
Northwestern Memorial HealthCare to Take On Debt in Physician Group Deal
2 Physician Groups Form Mercy Health Physician Partners

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