The Federal Trade Commission released an administrative law judge's opinion favoring the agency's price-fixing complaint against 550-doctor North Texas Specialty Physicians, a Fort Worth-based independent practice association. Modern Healthcare reported the decision earlier this month, but the opinion's final version had not been released to the public (Nov. 15, p. 12).
The judge ruled that the FTC had proved 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 nonrisk 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 that 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.