Lobbyists for hospitals in Washington state wanted the state's 1993 healthcare antitrust exemption law to be revived after a one-year moratorium, and they did what they had to do. Nothing.
"We were geared up to do battle in the Legislature, but opposition didn't materialize," said Randy Revelle, urban project director for the Washington State Hospital Association. "So we made sure our people didn't bring it up."
The moratorium on the law automatically lifted on July 1, and the law went back into effect. It would have taken an affirmative action by the Legislature to extend the moratorium or repeal the law. By saying nothing, hospitals and their lobbyists got what they wanted from the Legislature.
"We expected the insurance industry to oppose us," Revelle said.
The Washington attorney general's office wasn't too thrilled with the law, and last December it issued an 89-page report that recommended repeal because competition among providers was controlling costs in the state and the expense of regulating providers in lieu of competition would cost more than it's worth (Jan. 1, p. 12).
"The report didn't generate much response," Revelle said.
Under the state's exemption statute, hospitals, physicians and other providers can seek antitrust relief from the state if their proposed collaborative venture meets specific criteria, such as lowering costs or improving access or quality, and those benefits exceed any anti-competitive risk. If the state granted an exemption petition, it would use annual reports filed by the providers and other mechanisms to monitor the progress of the venture in meeting its community-benefit goals.
Before the moratorium, only two affiliations involving Washington hospitals used the law to clear their joint ventures of antitrust problems (May 29, 1995, p. 10).
Duane Thurman, an antitrust policy analyst for the Washington State Health Care Policy Board, which reviews exemption applications, said no applications were filed during the moratorium, as expected, and none were filed immediately after the law was reinstated.
Revelle said he's not sure if any hospitals will take advantage of the law kicking back in, but he said the state hospital association wanted to make sure that option was available to its members if needed.