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White House Gets FTC to Heel

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, October 8, 2010

It's been several months since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as health reform, was passed by Congress. It was President Obama's key legislative achievement and was trumpeted from the halls as a new era in healthcare. Yet some of its key provisions, including the encouragement of healthcare providers to band together to improve the quality and continuity of care, seemed to directly conflict with the Federal Trade Commission's targeting of hospitals and health systems in antitrust actions.

The conflict was especially troubling if one entity wanted to own all these parts and pieces. Essentially, you had the government telling hospitals and health systems to band together on one hand, and threatening them with punishment for that action with the other hand.

I've talked to numerous CEOs about this issue in informal conversations since health reform legislation was passed, and none really had an answer for how this dichotomy might be addressed. They did, however, privately acknowledge it was a problem. Roughly six months later, we have our answer—and it's a big flip-flop from where we were only a month or so ago.

A couple of days ago, the FTC finally spoke. The upshot: They're looking for ways to relax its  enforcement of antitrust actions against healthcare providers in order to facilitate the formation of so-called accountable care organizations. But what took so long? In a climate in which an industry already hidebound by regulation is facing such drastic changes—from structures of care to reimbursement—time is of the essence.

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2 comments on "White House Gets FTC to Heel"


bob (10/11/2010 at 10:53 AM)
The simple solution is to pass legislation exempting the not-for-profits from per se anti-trust violations. Possibly, the administration is able to do that without legislation? That could make a real difference. There should be no legal restrictions on collaboration purely in the public interest.

Patrick Plemmons (10/8/2010 at 11:10 PM)
"The admirable goals of healthcare reform". Really? Do you really think the "White House" is bringing the FTC to heel? The goals of this White House with regard to "healthcare reform" are to undermine the private market for healthcare to the extent that a single payer, government run system is inevitable. Every day brings new evidence of this to anyone who cares to look and think. It is touching that you ascribe such noble motives to the "White House" but unless this awful piece of legislation is rolled back, the hospital industry in this country is going to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Federal government and will not have to worry about accountable care organizations or anything else other than taking orders. Let's see what November 2 brings. It can't come soon enough.