The American Hospital Association sent the Justice Department a letter and a 37-page argument calling for more vigorous antitrust treatment of health-plan mergers. The association requests that the departments Antitrust Division conduct a retrospective study of past mergers; convene public hearings to better understand the reasons for lack of competition among health plans; and overhaul the analytical framework for reviewing mergers and complaints.
Unlike other sectors of the healthcare field, such as hospitals, health plan mergers have received relatively little antitrust scrutiny, the association writes. The letter complains that the Justice Department requested minor divestitures as conditions to approving two massive health-plan deals while the Federal Trade Commission closely scrutinized several hospital mergers and challenged arrangements between physicians and hospitals.
The request arrived on a day that the departments top antitrust official, Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney, signaled that she intends to pursue a more active role in policing competition across all industries than was seen under the Bush administration, suggesting a failure to do so contributed to the current economic crisis. Varney was an FTC commissioner in the 1990s, and her subsequent work in private practice included work for the AHA.