FTC sees health mergers as threat

The head of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says the FTC views antitrust review of health care sector mergers and acquisitions as a top priority.

The FTC chairwoman, Edith Ramirez, talked about FTC health care deal antitrust enforcement efforts last week at a House Judiciary Committee antitrust subcommittee hearing.

Ramirez said the FTC wants to give hospitals, doctors and other players the freedom they need to coordinate their work in ways that lower the cost and improve the quality of care.

But "there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that provider consolidation is a key factor affecting clinical quality and increasing America's health care costs," Ramirez said, according to a written version of her testimony posted on the committee website.

The FTC has successfully blocked several proposed hospital mergers because of antitrust concerns in recent years, and it also has looked at deals that involve different types of providers, such as combinations of hospitals and doctors, Ramirez said.

The FTC has acted against hospital acquisitions of group physician practices and against drug manufacturer mergers, Ramirez said.

In some cases, Ramirez said, the FTC has tried to preserve competition in drug sales by requiring manufacturers involved in deals to put responsibility for making some drugs in the hands of other companies. 

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