The Federal Trade Commission is suing Surescripts for allegedly monopolizing portions of the e-prescription market.
The lawsuit, filed April 17 and unsealed earlier this week, alleges that Surescripts illegally monopolized two portions of the electronic prescribing market: routing e-prescriptions to pharmacies and determining patients' eligibility for prescription coverage. The FTC claimed Surescripts used exclusionary tactics to deter customers from using platforms from competitors.
The FTC is arguing Surescripts' anticompetitive acts led to higher prices and fewer choices for customers.
Surescripts requires its "nonloyal" customers, or those who enter into nonexclusive agreements with the company, to pay a higher price than those who use Surescripts' routing and eligibility services exclusively, according to the lawsuit. Surescripts is a "must-have" for many vendors, as it accounts for more than 95% of the routing and eligibility markets in e-prescriptions, the FTC said.
"Surescripts's web of loyalty contracts prevented competitors from attaining the critical mass necessary to be a viable competitor in either routing or eligibility," the complaint reads. "Those effectively exclusive contracts foreclosed at least 70% of each market."
As one example, the FTC said Surescripts pressured electronic health record provider Allscripts to enter into an exclusive contract in 2010.
The FTC alleges that in 2010 Surescripts pursued an exclusive contract with Allscripts. Under the contract, Allscripts would be required to terminate its routing connection with a competitor, Emdeon, which it had worked with since 2007, according to the complaint. Allscripts terminated its relationship with Emdeon when its contract with the company expired in 2013.
The FTC said its complaint is part of the agency's ongoing effort to address anticompetitive tactics in healthcare.
"For the past decade, Surescripts has used a series of anticompetitive contracts throughout the e-prescribing industry to eliminate competition and keep out competitors," Bruce Hoffman, director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition, said in a statement. "Surescripts's illegal contracts denied customers and, ultimately, patients, the benefits of competition."
The FTC is asking the U.S. District Court in Washington to prevent Surescripts from engaging in similar agreements in the future and to require the company to provide "monetary relief" to customers.
Surescripts has traditionally touted its e-prescription network as a tool to bolster interoperability between physicians and pharmacists. Earlier this month, the company released its annual "National Progress Report," boasting that its network helped 1.6 million healthcare professionals process 1.91 billion e-prescriptions.
"Surescripts is very disappointed at the allegations made today by the Federal Trade Commission," Surescripts CEO Tom Skelton said in a statement. "Surescripts pioneered the use of two-sided networks that enable the safe and secure exchange of patient health information. Since 2009, Surescripts has reduced the price of electronic prescribing by 70%."
Skelton said Surescripts has cooperated with the FTC's investigation and plans to make "an important change to our e-prescribing business agreements with pharmacies by removing the loyalty provisions in those contracts."