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FTC Shows ProMedica its Teeth

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, December 9, 2011

I have twin three-year-old daughters who are addicted to a couple of TV Christmas specials. They absolutely would watch Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer as many times as we would let them. So as the holidays approach, I've become something of an expert on the plot of each.

So as I was thinking about my column this week on the Federal Trade Commission's recent challenges to hospital and health system consolidation, I was reminded of one of the central plots in Rudolph. Bear with me. One of Rudolph's villains, as you'll no doubt recall, is the Bumble, an abominable snowman that menaces our hero.

In the climactic scene, Bumble is knocked unconscious, and the elf, Hermey, a misfit who wants to be a dentist instead of a toymaker, removes the Bumble's teeth. The Bumble then wakes up only to find that without his teeth, he is harmless and powerless.

It seems the FTC has worked that process in reverse. Someone has put its teeth back in.

The FTC recently achieved major victories in its quest to maintain a level, non-monopolistic playing field in the hospital sector. It could successfully be argued that the agency has overreached.

Of course, as we've seen, some of what's required for hospitals and health systems to participate in accountable care organizations conflicts with FTC guidelines, making decisions about mergers quite murky and filled with potential landmines for any senior hospital executive.

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