The health care reform law's call for new alliances between health care providers and hospitals to take collective responsibility for the care of Medicare beneficiaries has experts divided over how far the agreements can go without violating antitrust laws, says an article in The New York Times.
The current internal debate creates uncertainty about antitrust enforcement policy when many of hospitals, clinics, and physician groups are "eager to band together" in accountable care organizations and test innovative ways of delivering care. The uncertainty threatens to slow collaboration by health care providers that could cut costs and improve care for millions of people, the Times says.
While the collaborations can produce "enormous efficiencies," they may also be tempted to engage in monopolistic practices. The risk tends to be greatest in small- and medium-size communities dominated by 1 or 2 hospitals or health care systems, experts say.
In recent years, the Federal Trade Commission has taken the lead over the Justice Department in analyzing joint ventures by health care providers. Officials of the 2 agencies, which normally share responsibility for enforcing antitrust laws, are developing a joint statement explaining how they will evaluate proposed collaborations by physicians and hospitals, says the Times.
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