FTC, Congress Look to Scrutinize Health Care Consolidations and Mergers

By Consumers for Quality Care, on June 28, 2023

FTC, Congress Look to Scrutinize Health Care Consolidations and Mergers

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is urging the state of North Carolina not to pass a bill they say would reduce competition among health care providers, according to Healthcare Dive. This comes as medical associations and providers ask Congress to take action when it comes to health care consolidation, according to MedPage Today

The FTC recently sent a letter to the North Carolina House Health Committee pertaining to Senate Bill 743. The bill, which has already passed in the State Senate, would exempt UNC Health from federal and state antitrust laws, allowing them to enter “cooperative agreements” with other health care entities. The bill also contains provisions that would allow for the “acquisition” of other medical and health care facilities. 

The FTC is concerned the bill has the potential to “reduce competition among healthcare providers and lead to patient harm in the form of higher healthcare costs, lower quality, reduced innovation and reduced access to care.” 

Recently, the FTC has been more forceful in warning states about the risks of not enforcing antitrust laws. In 2022, they released a report on Certificates of Public Advantage (COPAs). These are agreements that shield hospital mergers from federal antitrust enforcement if the states in which the hospitals are located agree to provide their own oversight. The FTC believes the COPAs increase health care costs and lead to lower quality of care.

In addition to the FTC’s urging of North Carolina to reconsider Senate Bill 743, medical groups and providers are calling on Congress to provide additional protections and more oversight of health care mergers.

The CEO of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), Shawn Martin, recently testified in a Senate Finance Committee hearing about the consolidation and increased corporatization of the American health care system. As part of Martin’s testimony, he called on Congress to “implement additional reforms to address consolidation, including improving federal regulators’ antitrust enforcement authorities.”

Zack Cooper, PhD, an Associate Professor of Public Health at Yale School of Public Health, said during the hearing that “provider consolidation is one of the leading drivers of health spending and health insurance premium growth right now. Decreased competition hurts consumers, often leading to fewer options for care and higher out-of-pocket costs. CQC urges regulators and lawmakers to keep a close eye on hospital mergers and to work to ensure that consumers don’t foot the bill for anti-competitive practices.