The Federal Trade Commission announced an agreement resolving allegations that the executive director of Boulder Valley Individual Practice Association fielded contract offers from payers personally in order to skirt the terms of a price-fixing settlement the FTC entered with the Boulder, Colo., organization in 2008.
FTC announces agreement involving director of Colo. practice association
According to the FTC, Catherine Higgins told an insurer that she could negotiate as an individual on behalf of physicians in spite of the order prohibiting such involvement by Boulder Valley, an association of about 365 physicians in small practices in and around Boulder. A new complaint describes Higgins as personally involved in the conduct at issue in the FTC's previous action. For example, the FTC alleges, the association shared contract offers with members only after Higgins screened and approved them.
Without admitting any wrongdoing, Higgins agrees in the consent order to refrain from negotiating on behalf of any physician or relaying contract information between physicians and insurers except as part of a risk-sharing or clinically integrated arrangement that passes antitrust muster. In a 2008 interview with Modern Physician, Higgins said she believed the FTC ignored substantial clinical integration the association facilitated for its members and argued that health plans were always free to deal individually with Boulder Valley's members. She could not be reached for comment for this story.
Commissioner Thomas Rosch issued a dissenting statement, in which he describes the agreement with Higgins “a sad conclusion to an unnecessarily sordid tale.” Rosch writes that the decision to target Higgins personally is premised on disputed facts and could be seen as retaliation for her criticism of the FTC action in Modern Healthcare and elsewhere, and for subsequently meeting with individual commissioners to ask that she not be pursued separately.
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