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US DOJ forms new healthcare task force to target multisided platforms

The US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) announcement of the formation of a new healthcare task force signals an even stronger emphasis on addressing competition issues in the healthcare industry. Large, multisided platforms involved in multiple sectors (e.g., insurance companies acquiring physician practices and/or essential healthcare IT and data services) are a key target for enforcement.

What happened:

  • On May 9, 2024, the DOJ announced the formation of the Antitrust Division’s Task Force on Health Care Monopolies and Collusion (HCMC). The HCMC will be tasked with guiding and developing policy advocacy and conducting investigations – and ultimately civil and criminal enforcement actions –in healthcare markets.
  • US Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter stated that the HCMC “will identify and root out monopolies and collusive practices that increase costs, decrease quality and create single points of failure in the health care industry.” The press release specifically identified the following non-exhaustive set of issues that will be priority areas for the HCMC: payer-provider consolidation, serial acquisitions, labor, quality of care, medical billing, healthcare IT services, and the access to and misuse of healthcare data.
  • In announcing the formation of the task force at a Washington Post Live event, Kanter highlighted the changing nature of the healthcare marketplace. In what he coined the “platformization of healthcare,” patients and consumers now interact with “multisided giants, intermediaries that have a coordinated stack of businesses that flow together, including payers, including providers, including PBMs, claims processing, banks” which have become the “gatekeepers of our healthcare system.” According to Kanter, it is crucial that the Antitrust Division adapt its enforcement policies and strategies in healthcare to reflect these new market realities.
  • The HCMC will be led by Katrina Rouse, an antitrust prosecutor at the DOJ since 2011 who previously served as chief of the Defense, Industrials, and Aerospace Section and a trial attorney in the Healthcare and Consumer Products Section. Rouse will oversee a team of civil and criminal prosecutors, economists, experts in healthcare and technology, data scientists, investigators and policy advisors.

What this means:

  • The antitrust enforcement agencies have used similar task forces in the past to focus resources and accumulate subject matter expertise. For example, the DOJ’s Procurement Collusion Strike Force has been successful at investigating and pursuing government contracting cases.
  • The launch of the HCMC reflects the antitrust enforcement agencies’ increasing efforts to respond to changing dynamics in the healthcare space and address the potential harmful results of these changes on patients, healthcare workers and communities. In March 2024, the DOJ, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) jointly launched a cross-government inquiry into the increasing role of private equity firms in healthcare transactions and whether such firms prioritize maximizing profits at the expense of healthcare quality and affordability.
  • Of note, the DOJ, rather than the FTC, typically investigates mergers involving health plans and contracting issues among health plans and providers. Therefore, healthcare industry participants, including health plans, hospitals, physician practices, IT and data companies, should be increasingly vigilant with their antitrust compliance efforts given the newly launched task force’s direct focus on monopolization and collusive practices in this space.
  • Companies who believe they are being harmed by consolidation and collusion in any aspect of the healthcare industry also have the opportunity to raise these issues offensively by reaching out to the HCMC. The DOJ, FTC and HHS previously announced a portal – healthycompetition.gov – through which the public may report suspected anticompetitive practices in the healthcare industry.

The National Law Review

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