FTC antitrust agreement frees cardiologists from non-compete contract

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After a rare Federal Trade Commission decision this week relieved a cardiology group from its non-compete contract, 10 cardiologists are leaving Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nev., according to a FTC statement Tuesday.  

In a 5-0 vote, the FTC approved an antitrust agreement between the FTC and Renown Health, the largest provider of acute care hospital services in northern Nevada.

At one point, Renown Health made up to 97 percent of the cardiology market practice, when it acquired Sierra Nevada Cardiology Associates in 2010 and Reno Heart Physicians in 2011, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported. The deals required the cardiologists to sign non-compete clauses. Although Renown's market share is currently at 88 percent, the complaint alleges that the health system "effectively eliminated" competition in the area.

"Those orders will restore competition for heart care in the Reno and Sparks market," Brian Armstrong, senior deputy attorney general in the state Attorney General Office's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in another Reno Gazette-Journal article.

Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center, a competing hospital, said the FTC decision "supports patient choice in Northern Nevada."

Cardiologists who want to leave for a competing practice have 30 days to do so without penalty. The health system also must notify the attorney general's office of future cardiology acquisitions in the state.

According to Merritt Hawkins, 75 percent of the nation's physicians will be employed by hospitals in 2014.

Hospitals in recent years, however, have complained about competing interests from regulatory agencies to collaborate with other providers in care coordination, yet be wary not to create a monopoly and violate antitrust laws.

For more information:
- see the FTC outline, decision (.pdf) and statement
- read the Reno Gazette-Journal article on the decision and the article on departing physicians

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