Antitrust: A Word of Caution
The difficult economic times that our nation is facing have encouraged some people to take drastic measures: selling of important assets, employee layoffs, pulling from retirement accounts, questionable billing practices, and even price fixing. In short, sometimes we make illogical or imprudent decisions when the financial pressure seems unbearable. As a result, all doctors must take some important precautions.
The antitrust laws of the United States and the various states prohibit agreements, combinations, and conspiracies in restraint of trade. Business competitors are prohibited from engaging in actions that could result in unreasonable restraint of trade (i.e. price fixing).
While having lunch with your area colleagues, you may be tempted to discuss pricing, boycotting certain suppliers, or even whether or not to join specific managed care network(s), Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO), or any other insurance-related physician groups. However, each of these discussions could be considered violations of antitrust laws and should be avoided at all costs.
Although not all-inclusive, here are some important rules to follow when meeting with your colleagues and other healthcare providers:
- Do not agree with your colleagues not to deal with specific equipment suppliers;
- Do not agree with or influence your colleagues or any other health care providers to join or not join specific managed care network(s), Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO), or any other insurance-related physician groups;
- Do not exchange data concerning fees, prices, salaries, customer credit, or other business practices. In fact, the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission Statements of Antitrust Enforcement Policy in Health Care indicates, “Exchanges of future prices for provider services or future compensation of employees are very likely to be considered anticompetitive. If an exchange among competing providers of price or cost information results in an agreement among competitors as to the prices for health care services or the wages to be paid to health care employees, that agreement will be considered unlawful;” and
- Leave any meeting (formal or informal) where improper subjects are being discussed. Tell everyone why you are leaving.
Please take caution at every meeting you attend, whether formal or informal, to understand and adhere to antitrust laws. In addition to the legal scars, the fines and penalties can reach into the hundreds of thousands and are in addition to the legal defense costs. Read more on antitrust and the Antitrust Policy of the Illinois Chiropractic Society.