- The Federal Trade Commission sent orders to six health insurance companies to obtain patient-level claims data for inpatient, outpatient, and physician services from 2015 to 2020, the agency said Thursday.
- The FTC wants to figure out how hospitals' acquisitions of physician practices has affected competition.
- The agency sent orders to some of the nation's largest insurance companies, including UnitedHealthcare, Anthem, Aetna, Cigna, Florida Blue and Health Care Service Corporation.
This action is part of a larger effort underway at the agency to consider new questions and areas of study to help it understand the ultimate impact of mergers. The hope is that those studies will yield evidence to better equip the agency to legally challenge mergers in the future.
Health economists cheered the news online following the FTC's Thursday's announcement about studying physician practice buy-ups.
Martin Gaynor, former director of FTC's Bureau of Economics, tweeted: "This is a big deal - a huge # of physician practices are now owned by hospitals." Gaynor is a health economist at Carnegie Mellon.
"Important step to advance FTC’s understanding of the market and could improve their ability to win cases," Emily Gee, a health economist at the Center for American Progress, tweeted.
In the orders, the FTC asks the insurers for data such as the total billed charges of all health providers, total deductibles, copays and coinsurance paid by the patient. It also asks for data tied to each inpatient admission and outpatient and physician episodes during the time period in question, which will likely result in a barrage of data for the agency to review.
"The study results should aid the FTC’s enforcement mission by providing much more detailed information than is currently available about how physician practice mergers and healthcare facility mergers affect competition," the agency said in a statement.
This area of study expands the agency's current work. One area already of interest within this broader retrospective merger review program is the scrutiny of labor markets.
The agency has traditionally focused on how healthcare tie-ups affect prices. But the agency has signaled that it is increasingly interested in how mergers and acquisitions ultimately affect workers' wages, including nurses.
One area of concern for the FTC is states' willingness to greenlight COPAs, or certificates of public advantage (COPAs), which essentially shield mergers from federal antitrust regulators in exchange for prolonged state oversight.
In 2019, the agency sent orders to five insurance companies seeking data to study the impact of COPAs.