White House Gets FTC to Heel
In case you hadn't noticed, the FTC has gotten quite good at undoing hospital and health system acquisitions that they deem anticompetitive—all while the nation's health insurers have gained enviable market clout through the same strategy, with little more than light regulatory pressure from the FTC to maintain competitive markets. Perhaps they were looking for the wrong bogeyman.
Insurers compete with each other to a degree, but they compete with hospitals and health systems more acutely. Except in the few cases where a hospital or health system has enough market clout to ensure higher reimbursement per patient, many standalone and small hospital systems are unable to break even under that reimbursement scheme.
In any case, the story, in which the FTC promised to waive certain antitrust laws if they hindered the creation of effective ACOs, was welcome news for hospital and health system leaders who are trying to figure out what services and employees to cobble together to form ACOs. Much of the reform legislation becomes real in 2014, but hospitals and health systems need as much lead time as possible to try to innovate through a maze of conflicting government regulatory relationships and federal turf battles. This is just one glaring example of many more that undoubtedly fly under the radar.
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