Justice Department Increasing ‘Scrutiny’ of Health Plans, Mergers for Antitrust Violations
Officials from the Justice Department's antitrust division at a conference Monday said they plan to increase "scrutiny" of health insurance companies following a "spate of mergers" in the last decade that may have reduced the number of competitors in the market, Reuters/Houston Chronicle reports. Between 1995 and 2000, health insurers and managed care organizations were involved in more than 350 mergers, according to American Medical Association President Donald Palmisano. Therefore, health insurers have become an "area of primary concern," Deputy Assistant Attorney General Deborah Majoras said. She added that officials will pay "especially close" attention to any new mergers in the market. Specifically, they are looking for any "collective or unilateral activity" that could cause competition issues. The announcement comes after the Federal Trade Commission, which shares responsibility for antitrust investigation with the Justice Department, last month settled charges against eight Denver, Colo., physician groups that were allegedly engaged in price fixing to boost the cost of their services. The AMA subsequently called on investigators to "focus on HMOs and health plans, not just physicians," Reuters/Chronicle reports. Majoras said, "For consumers to benefit from competition in health care markets, sufficient competition must be maintained among providers but also among the health plans that purchase the providers' services on behalf of their plan members." Stephanie Kanwit, American Association of Health Plans' general counsel, said the Justice Department's action was "business as usual," adding, "I'm not aware of any anti-competitive activities at all" (Kaplan, Reuters/Houston Chronicle, 9/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.