On March 20-21, 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a public workshop, “Examining Health Care Competition,” to discuss trends and developments in the health care industry that may affect competition. Specifically, the workshop used five panels of industry participants and experts to study professional regulation of health care providers, innovations in health care delivery, advancements in health care technology, measuring and assessing health care quality, and price transparency of health care services.

The following are key takeaways from the workshop:

  • The panel on innovations in health care delivery focused its discussion on the implementation of regulatory and policy options regarding telehealth services and retail clinics, such as “minute clinics.” The panel noted that new forms of health care delivery can improve access and care, while decreasing spending. But new delivery options also face significant obstacles, like state licensing requirements that hamper efforts to help patients across state lines.
  • Some industry participants claimed that electronic health records (EHRs) make it easier for hospitals and health technology companies to limit competition improperly. Though EHRs may lower costs and improve quality by improving care coordination, EHRs might also create barriers to competition by forcing hospitals and physicians to deal with only one vendor or Accountable Care Organization (ACO). For example, an EHR vendor may charge a premium to send data out-of-network or to a new vendor.
  • One panel discussed the delicate balance between increased price transparency and antitrust concerns. Meaningful price transparency may assist consumers, payors, and providers increase quality of care while controlling costs by leading to more informed consumer decisions and more competitive market prices. But it could also lead to collusion among payors or providers.

The workshop reinforces that competition in the health care industry is a major focus for the FTC at this time. The investigation into potential antitrust issues in health care supplements the recent, vigorous enforcement of the antitrust laws in this area by the FTC. And that vigorous enforcement shows no signs of abating.

The FTC will accept public comments regarding the workshop until April 30, 2014.