A physician group in Grand Junction, Colo., said it might be the target of a Federal Trade Commission probe.Mesa County Physicians IPA was asked March 18 to voluntarily provide exten sive information about its operations during the past three years, said Nancy McCarroll, its administrative director. The group will comply, but it has requested a 90-day extension of the April 15 deadline, McCarroll said."It sure seems (we're being investigated)," she said. "We don't know why."The IPA includes 197 physicians, representing about 95% of physicians practicing in Mesa County. It acts as a "messenger" in contracts by passing payers' terms to members, who then decide individually whether to participate, McCarroll said. The group doesn't bar payers or doctors from negotiating without it, she said.The FTC might be examining HMO contracts, one managed-care watcher said. "For many years, many local providers have chosen to limit the HMOs they participate in to one," said James Hertel, publisher of Colorado Managed Care, a newsletter that reported the FTC interest last week.Mesa County, on Colora do's western edge, has a population of 93,000. Grand Junction, its largest city, is served by four hospitals: 200-bed St. Mary's Hospital and Medical Center, 51-bed Community Hospital, a veterans medical center and a rehabilitation hospital. Two small hospitals operate in rural areas in Mesa County.The largest HMO is Rocky Mountain HMO, which has 42,000 enrollees in the market. Its prime contractor is Mesa County Physicians.One other HMO, run by Blue Cross a nd Blue Shield of Colorado, operates in the area but doesn't contract with Mesa County Physicians. Its enrollment wasn't available.Rocky Mountain President Mike Weber said he received an FTC request last week for documents relating to Mesa County Physicians, other physician groups and employers. "I don't have any idea what the issue is," Weber said.Blues General Counsel Michael Huotari said the FTC had contacted the company, but he couldn't provide further information.Representatives of St. Mary's and Community said they weren't aware of any federal inquiry.St. Mary's said it recently began employing doctors, although it hasn't bought physician practices yet.Community is discussing a closer relationship, but not a merger, with Rocky Mountain. The agreement might allow the HMO to nominate up to 25% of the hospital board, Weber said.A spokeswoman for the FTC in Washington declined to comment.
THE WEEK IN HEALTHCARE;ANTITRUST;COLO. DOC PRACTICE QUERIED BY FTC;REASON UNKNOWN
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