In March of this year the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) jointly announced a series of “listening forums” that would help gather real world input from participants in key industry segments on possible reforms to the antitrust regulations pertaining to mergers and acquisitions.1 Co-led by DOJ Deputy Assistant Attorney General (“DAAG”) Doha Mekke and FTC Chairperson Lina Khan, the second of the four announced forums, focusing on healthcare, was held on April 14, 2022. 2 In addition to DAAG Mekki and Chairperson Khan, the program included eight panelists that provided perspectives from nurses, doctors, patients, pharmacists and small businesses. 3
DAAG Mekki started off the discussion by reaffirming the antitrust enforcement agencies’ collective commitment that “healthcare markets remain competitive” because it “is essential to our livelihood or the livelihood of the nation.” Mekki referenced ongoing work by the agencies in the healthcare field, including recent DOJ enforcement actions. 4
The healthcare panelists highlighted several ongoing issues in the industry, such as the adverse impact of care due to post-merger hospital staff downsizing that was tied to merger-specific efficiencies, reduced options to tertiary care, higher healthcare costs for patients, and unfair competition in the pharmaceutical and small business markets, and other impacts in the research and labor markets.
Chairperson Khan indicated that the comments resonated with the concerns that the FTC had in the hospital, pharmacy benefits management, and pharmacy industries. Ms. Khan also suggested a renewed interest in examining the potential anticompetitive effects of vertical integration in addition to horizontal mergers and acquisitions, which is consistent with the FTC’s position when it indicated that it wanted to revisit this issue while withdrawing the Vertical Merger Guidelines in 2021. Khan also reaffirmed the importance of examining anticompetitive effects in the labor market. All of these issues, according to Khan, are important in assessing how the antitrust laws can be used to improve the quality of healthcare for patients.
The forum ended with some of the more than two hundred public comments, most of which echoed similar concerns raised by the panelists in addition to concerns such as disparities in hospital-physician group contracting situations and racial disparities in access to healthcare as a result of healthcare system mergers.
Once again, all signs point toward an unprecedented time in antitrust enforcement in the healthcare industry. Accordingly, it is important that healthcare companies revisit, revise, and implement best practices with regard to their respective antitrust compliance programs. A proactive, as opposed to a reactive, approach would provide companies the best risk management strategy. It is also important to engage antitrust counsel early in potential transactions to assess how the antitrust agencies may view the deal. The Polsinelli Antitrust Team is ready to assist clients.
The DOJ and FTC Listening Forums continue with Media and Entertainment, which was held on April 27, 2022, and the final one on Technology, which will be held on May 12, 2022. Click here to download the alert.
1 “Forums to focus on markets commonly impacted by mergers: food and agriculture, health care, media and entertainment, and technology,” March 17, 2022, available at: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/03/ftc-justice-department-launch-listening-forums-firsthand-effects-mergers-acquisitions
2 See “Antitrust Enforcers’ First ‘Listening Forum’ On Merger Reform Highlights Ongoing Concerns in the Food and Agriculture Industry” May 9, 2022, available at: https://www.polsinelli.com/intelligence/antitrust-forum-highlights-concerns-in-food-and-ag
3 Full transcript of forum available at: https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/ftc_gov/pdf/FTC-DOJ-Listening-Forum-%20Health-Care-Transcript.pdf. It should be noted that Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter did make an appearance at the end of the session, reiterating the importance of this forum.
4 See “DOJ Faces Two Strikeouts in First Health Care Wage-Fixing and ‘No Poach’ Prosecutions,” April 20, 2022, available at: https://www.polsinelli.com/intelligence/doj-faces-two-strikeouts-in-first-health-care