The Federal Trade Commission released an administrative law judge's opinion favoring the agency's price-fixing complaint against 550-physician North Texas Specialty Physicians, an independent practice association in Fort Worth, Texas. The Daily Dose reported the decision earlier this month, but the opinion had not been released to the public in its final version. The judge ruled that the FTC had proven that North Texas "engaged in a combination, contract or conspiracy that has unreasonably restrained trade" and ordered the IPA to end such practices and terminate some existing non-risk contracts. North Texas officials said in a statement that they were reviewing the judge's decision "regarding certain operational issues and will soon decide how to proceed." The decision is subject to review by the FTC commissioners.
The judge said the evidence did not establish that the IPA's rates were higher than those health plans paid directly to physicians, as the FTC alleged. But he concluded, "It is no excuse that the prices fixed are themselves reasonable." North Texas denied the FTC's allegations. It has been the only IPA to challenge the FTC in the agency's three-year, industrywide investigation of physician price-fixing, which so far has resulted in 20 consent decrees with physician organizations. Read the opinion. -- by Mark Taylor