Your article on the postponement of action on a physician antitrust exemption bill sponsored by Rep. Thomas Campbell (R-Calif.) (Nov. 8, p. 6), says, Ironically, the hospital industry won antitrust concessions from the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission in the mid-1990s that helped fuel the hospital merger and acquisition boom . . . (but) apparently does not want to extend the same legal flexibility to physicians." This is wrong on two counts.
First, except for a few pages (four of 140) on mergers involving very small rural hospitals, the policy statements issued by the antitrust enforcement agencies in the mid-1990s were aimed primarily at assuring physicians that they can work with one another in ways that do not violate the antitrust laws. And the most recent policy statement revisions (from 1996), largely prompted by the American Medical Association, were focused on physician network issues and had nothing to do with hospital mergers. Rather than fueling a hospital merger boom, the revisions explain how providers, physicians in particular, can collaborate in many ways without running afoul of the antitrust laws.
Second, there is no irony in the hospital industry's opposition to the Campbell bill. Hospitals are joining many nonphysician providers, such as nurse midwives and physical therapists, who also oppose this bill, even though it would grant them an antitrust exemption to jointly negotiate with health plans. All these providers recognize that it is not in their interests or the interests of consumers to abandon antitrust protection and allow cartels that could dictate prices, reduce choices and limit innovative approaches to improve quality and control costs.
Hogan and Hartson