The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a 2005 Federal Trade Commission decision that North Texas Specialty Physicians, an association of independent practices in and around Fort Worth, engaged in illegal price-fixing.
The FTC initiated the antitrust case against the North Texas organization in 2001 amid more than 20 actions questioning the negotiating habits of practice associations that claimed to be organized for the sake of clinical integration. Officials for North Texas Specialty could not be reached for comment at deadline.
The North Texas case became widely watched because the association declined to enter a consent decree with the commission, and instead fought the allegations through the administrative process and then appealed to the 5th Circuit. North Texas set up a system in which members were polled as to the minimum rates theyd accept, and the association would circulate contract offers from payers only if they exceeded an acceptable fee calculated from the poll results.
The appeals court agreed with the FTC that the system amounted to price restraint and that North Texas failed to articulate how patients benefited from it. The 5th Circuit, however, asked the commission to modify its demand that North Texas not deal, refuse to deal, or threaten to refuse to deal with any payer, which the court found overly broad and internally inconsistent. -- by Gregg Blesch
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