The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the withdrawal of three guidance documents related to mergers and antitrust in healthcare, after labeling the policy statements “outdated” and “overly permissive.”
The documents, some of which provided safe harbors to merging hospitals under certain circumstances, were too lax on certain subjects, including information sharing, the DOJ said in a press release Friday.
Withdrawing the statements was “the best course of action for promoting competition and transparency,” the agency said.
Going forward, the DOJ said it will evaluate mergers among healthcare businesses on a case-by-case basis for any harm to competition.
The withdrawn statements were released in September 1993, August 1996, and October 2011.
The 1993 guidance offered safe harbors from antitrust enforcement in six areas under certain circumstances, including hospital mergers; joint ventures involving certain technologies; hospital participation in sharing of price and cost information; joint purchasing arrangements among providers; physician network joint ventures; and physicians’ provision of information to purchasers of healthcare services.
The 1996 guidance further explained the DOJ’s enforcement policies concerning physician network joint ventures and multiprovider networks.
The 2011 guidance focused on accountable care organizations (ACOs), which are groups of health providers who are allowed to create an integrated system of care for Medicare beneficiaries in an effort to improve health outcomes and deliver more efficient care. While the Department of Health and Human Services has encouraged ACOs, the DOJ expressed concern some ACOs might reduce competition, bump up prices for patients, and/or lower care.
The need to remove the guidance is “long overdue,” said Jonathan Kanter, assistant attorney general and head of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, in the agency’s release.