FTC Announces Public Workshop to Examine Health Care Competition

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced that it will hold a two-day public workshop on March 20 – 21, 2014 to examine emerging trends that may affect competition in the health care industry.  The Federal Register notice indicates that the workshop will focus on: current developments related to professional regulations, innovations in health care delivery, advancements in health care technology, measuring and assessing health care quality, and price transparency for health care services.  The FTC has asked for public comments on questions relevant to these specific areas to be considered at the workshop and which may also be used in connection with a future report or policy paper.  A full list of the questions for public comment can be found in the Federal Register notice.  Public comments will be accepted through April 30, 2014.

Professional regulation of health care providers:  The FTC voiced an interest in the impact of professional regulations on competition in the health care industry, noting that greater competition may result when regulatory changes expand the number of providers or services available to the public through the use of non-physician practitioners.  Conversely, the FTC notes that some professional regulations may unnecessarily restrict the ability of non-physician practitioners to practice to the full extent of their training without justifiable safety considerations.  The FTC seeks to explore whether such limitations may also impact the ability of institutional providers in developing healthcare delivery models.  The FTC workshop will look at developments in professional regulations including accreditation, credentialing, licensure, supervision/cooperation requirements as well as scope of practice issues with regard to emerging healthcare professions.

Innovations in health care delivery: The FTC plans to examine developing models of health care delivery including retail clinics and telemedicine, and their impact on competition in health care services.  Among other questions, the workshop will consider to what extent these new delivery models are being used, their impact on patient access to care, whether they raise any patient safety concerns and what changes are needed in government regulations to facilitate the development of new health care delivery models.

Advancements in health care technology:  The workshop is also focused on the competitive impact of advancements in healthcare technology including electronic health records, health data exchanges, technology platforms for payers and providers as well as patient-centered technologies such as mobile medicine apps and personal medical record technology.  Among other questions, the notice seeks public comment on the barriers for innovators of health information technology, the policies that could further future innovations in telemedicine, the extent in which patient health information is being shared between information technology vendors and healthcare providers, and the competitive implications of emerging technologies in health care.

Measuring and assessing quality of health care:  The FTC is focused on whether information regarding quality of care affects competition and informs health care choices by patients, providers, employers, payers, and other health care decision-makers.

Price transparency of health care services:  One focus of the workshop and the call for public comments is aimed at how price transparency can be used to control costs, maintain quality of services and potentially enhance competition among providers and between treatments.  There are some concerns over price coordination among providers in the face of price transparency and the FTC seeks to gain a better understanding of the competitive implications.

It is possible the FTC will issue a report as an outgrowth of the workshop and public comments received.  Notably, in July 2004, the FTC issued a report entitled “Improving Health Care: A Dose of Competition” in conjunction with the Department of Justice following a number of public hearings.

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