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FTC Shows ProMedica its Teeth

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, December 9, 2011

Those same executives complain that they're being encouraged on one hand to develop closer relationships with their local competitors in order to better coordinate care and limit waste in healthcare through ACOs, but the other hand of government is preventing them from taking these very actions.

It's a legitimate complaint, despite guidance from the Justice Department and the FTC that seems to promise relaxed enforcement regarding partnerships and acquisitions that are necessary for ACO development.

But one has only to look at the FTC's victory this week over ProMedica in Ohio to get a sense that the agency's enforcement efforts are getting tougher rather than easier, despite the rhetoric.

The agency not only ruled that St. Luke's Hospital's partnership enacted last year with ProMedica violated antitrust rules, but also won an important victory in the court of an administrative law judge. Though ProMedica, which has already executed the partnership, will appeal, this is undoubtedly a huge legal expense that must be borne by both the government and ProMedica.

One could argue this fight is necessary to establish guidelines, and a possible safe harbor for future tie-ups, but taken alone, it's not exactly an efficient use of time or money in bringing down healthcare costs. And the FTC's hospital challenges continue to mount.

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