Hospital consolidation, antitrust law concerns grow

Although recent reports show mergers and acquisitions fell overall in 2013, hospital consolidation and affiliation are on many CEOs and executives' minds.

They're also on the minds of policymakers and government officials, especially since some larger healthcare organizations use market power to maintain high prices without necessarily providing the best quality care, according to Health Affairs, which compiled a list of studies revolving around provider consolidation.

In light of ongoing hospital consolidations, private and public-sector initiatives will determine whether governments shift from supporting competition to directly regulating payment rates, according to a study from Paul Ginsburg, of the Sol Price School of Public Policy and the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at University of South California; and Gregory Pawlson, a senior medical consultant at the law firm Stevens and Lee in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  

Healthcare policy regulators and antitrust enforcers must force the market to define products that are assembled to consumers, while keeping emerging sectors like mHealth free from overregulation and appropriation by established interests, according to another study from the School of Law at the University of Texas. Healthcare regulation has distorted prices and altered the nature of products the system buys and sells, the researchers said.

However, hospital groups argue that realignment allows organizations to maintain their community presence by offering more services and preventing closures, which expands and preserves patient access to care, according to a post on the Federation of American Hospitals' Hospital Policy Blog.

The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice will maintain antitrust enforcement and consumer protection in the healthcare markets, Bruce Vladeck argues in Health Affairs.

Earlier this year, a federal judge determined that St. Luke's Health System in Idaho violated antitrust laws when it purchased the state's largest independent physician's practice, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's Health Affairs' compilation of articles and studies
- read the Health Affairs commentary
- read the FAH blog post