The Federal Trade Commission announced the formation of its long-rumored "merger litigation task force," charged in part with "reinvigorating the commission's hospital merger program." That "includes a review of, and potential challenge to, consummated transactions that may have resulted in anticompetitive price increases," the FTC said in its written announcement. Michael Cowie, assistant director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition, was named to head the task force, which also will focus on merger enforcement in the retail industry. The task force absorbs an unnamed merger litigation team established by the FTC earlier this year.
Healthcare antitrust attorneys had anticipated the move. The FTC is "blanketing the country with phone calls and . . . preparing subpoenas relating to hospital mergers that have occurred, both mergers that they've looked at before and ones they haven't," said Toby Singer, a healthcare antitrust attorney at the Washington office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue. "And the (FTC's) Bureau of Economics is doing a study on past hospital mergers with an eye towards enforcement action." It's too soon to predict the task force's activities, "but I think hospitals that already merged and have been contacted by the FTC need to prepare their defenses," Singer said. -- by Mark Taylor