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DOJ Deal Ends Monopoly for Texas Health System

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 1, 2011

United Regional Health Care System has agreed to a demand from federal prosecutors that it no longer block health plans from contracting with other hospitals in the Wichita Falls, TX area, the Department of Justice has announced.

Federal prosecutors said URHCS illegally used contracts to maintain its monopoly for hospital services in violation of the Sherman Act, which meant that consumers paid more for healthcare. This is the first case brought by DOJ since 1999 that challenges a monopoly with in traditional anticompetitive unilateral conduct.

"Unfettered competition among hospitals is vital to ensuring that patients receive high-quality, low-cost healthcare," said Christine Varney, assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division. "Today's settlement prevents a dominant hospital from using its market power to harm consumers by undermining its competitors' ability to compete in the marketplace."

Phyllis Cowling, president/CEO of URHCS, said the private, nonprofit health system "was pleased with the resolution" of the investigation.

"While we disagree with the Department's interpretation of the facts and would have welcomed the opportunity to address this matter in a court of law, we believe it is in the best interest of United Regional and our patients to instead move forward with our total attention and resources focused on our passion of providing excellence in healthcare for the communities we serve," Cowling said in a statement posted on the URHCS Web site.

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