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Hospitals to FTC: Examine 'anticompetitive' behavior of nurse-staffing firms, insurers

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Hospitals are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to examine whether recent behavior of nurse-staffing firms and insurance companies is "anticompetitive," while also asking the commission to reconsider its study of mergers between physician groups and healthcare facilities.

In a Feb. 4 letter to acting FTC Chair Rebecca Slaughter, the American Hospital Association said it has received reports that nurse-staffing agencies are using anticompetitive rate hikes at a time when hospitals are dealing with nursing shortages because of the pandemic. The AHA asked the FTC to investigate price-setting at nurse-staffing firms and "take appropriate action to protect hospitals and the patients whom they treat," according to the letter.

The AHA also said it wants the FTC to look into UnitedHealthcare's new designated diagnostic provider policy, which the association argues is anticompetitive. Beginning July 1, diagnostic tests completed at a facility that isn't a "designated diagnostic provider" won't be covered for UnitedHealthcare's commercial health plan members, even if the facility is considered "in-network."

The nurse-staffing agency rate hikes and UnitedHealthcare's new designated diagnostic provider policy should be prioritized over a retrospective study the FTC is planning on the effect of hospital acquisitions of physician groups, the AHA argued.

"Efforts such as these would seem to be a better use of the FTC's resources than yet another retrospective involving the hospital field undertaken in the midst of a national public health emergency of historic proportions that has placed unprecedented stress on the nation's hospitals for more than a year," the AHA said.

Read the full letter here.

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