The Federal Trade Commission has signed another consent decree to resolve physician price-fixing allegations, the agency announced this morning.
Preferred Health Services, a 100-doctor South Carolina physician-hospital organization that includes 201-bed Oconee Memorial Hospital in Seneca, S.C., agreed in a three-page consent order to not collectively negotiate and fix prices it charges payers on behalf of physician members. The agency claimed that practice forced health plans to pay higher prices.
The FTC alleged that the 9-year-old Preferred Health illegally acted as a "contracting representative" to health plans for its members, who comprise about 70% of the independent doctors practicing around the Seneca area.
"The FTC will continue to stand strongly for consumers when the evidence shows that rival physicians have negotiated collectively for the fees to charge health plans," said Susan Creighton, who heads the FTC's Bureau of Competition, in a news release. "Such collective negotiating is not only illegal, but may lead to higher healthcare costs and limited physician access."
Preferred Health claimed it was acting legally using the "messenger model" and settled without admitting legal wrongdoing. Officials at Okonee and Preferred Health could not be reached for comment at deadline.
Read the complaint and consent order.