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San Juan IPA, Inc.; Analysis of Agreement Containing Consent Order To Aid Public Comment

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AGENCY:

Federal Trade Commission.

ACTION:

Proposed consent agreement.

SUMMARY:

The consent agreement in this matter settles alleged violations of federal law prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts or practices or unfair methods of competition. The attached Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes both the allegations in the Start Printed Page 30950draft complaint and the terms of the consent order—embodied in the consent agreement—that would settle these allegations.

DATES:

Comments must be received on or before June 17, 2005.

ADDRESSES:

Interested parties are invited to submit written comments. Comments should refer to “San Juan IPA, Inc., File No. 031 0181,” to facilitate the organization of comments. A comment filed in paper form should include this reference both in the text and on the envelope, and should be mailed or delivered to the following address: Federal Trade Commission/Office of the Secretary, Room 159-H, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580. Comments containing confidential material must be filed in paper form, must be clearly labeled “Confidential,” and must comply with Commission Rule 4.9(c). 16 CFR 4.9(c) (2005). [1] The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in paper form be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions. Comments that do not contain any nonpublic information may instead be filed in electronic form as part of or as an attachment to e-mail messages directed to the following e-mail box: consentagreement@ftc.gov.

The FTC Act and other laws the Commission administers permit the collection of public comments to consider and use in this proceeding as appropriate. All timely and responsive public comments, whether filed in paper or electronic form, will be considered by the Commission, and will be available to the public on the FTC Web site, to the extent practicable, at http://www.ftc.gov. As a matter of discretion, the FTC makes every effort to remove home contact information for individuals from the public comments it receives before placing those comments on the FTC website. More information, including routine uses permitted by the Privacy Act, may be found in the FTC's privacy policy, at http://www.ftc.gov/​ftc/​privacy.htm.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Steve Vieux, Bureau of Competition, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580; (202) 326-2306.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Pursuant to section 6(f) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 38 Stat. 721, 15 U.S.C. 46(f), and Sections 2.34 of the Commission Rules of Practice, 16 CFR 2.34, notice is hereby given that the above-captioned consent agreement containing a consent order to cease and desist, having been filed with and accepted, subject to final approval, by the Commission, has been placed on the public record for a period of thirty (30) days. The following Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes the terms of the consent agreement, and the allegations in the complaint. An electronic copy of the full text of the consent agreement package can be obtained from the FTC Home Page (for May 19, 2005), on the World Wide Web, at http://www.ftc.gov/​os/​2005/​05/​index.htm. A paper copy can be obtained from the FTC Public Reference Room, Room 130-H, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580, either in person or by calling (202) 326-2222.

Public comments are invited, and may be filed with the Commission in either paper or electronic form. All comments should be filed as prescribed in the ADDRESSES section above, and must be received on or before the date specified in the DATES section.

Analysis of Agreement Containing Consent Order To Aid Public Comment

The Federal Trade Commission has accepted, subject to final approval, an agreement containing a proposed consent order with San Juan IPA, Inc. (San Juan IPA). The agreement settles charges that San Juan IPA violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. 45, by orchestrating and implementing agreements among physician members of San Juan IPA to fix prices and other terms on which they would deal with health plans, and to refuse to deal with such purchasers except on collectively-determined terms. The proposed consent order has been placed on the public record for 30 days to receive comments from interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After 30 days, the Commission will review the agreement and the comments received, and decide whether it should withdraw from the agreement or make the proposed order final.

The purpose of this analysis is to facilitate public comment on the proposed order. The analysis is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the agreement and proposed order, or to modify their terms in any way. Further, the proposed consent order has been entered into for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by San Juan IPA that it violated the law or that the facts alleged in the complaint (other than jurisdictional facts) are true.

The Complaint

The allegations of the complaint are summarized below.

San Juan IPA is an independent physician association (IPA) with approximately 120 physician members. San Juan IPA does business in the Farmington, New Mexico, area, which is located in the northwestern corner of New Mexico.

San Juan IPA's physician members account for approximately 80% of the physicians independently practicing (that is, those not employed by area hospitals) in and around the Farmington area. To be marketable in the Farmington area, a payor's health insurance plan must have access to a large number of physicians who are members of San Juan IPA.

Although San Juan IPA purported to operate as a “messenger model” [2] —that is, an arrangement that does not facilitate horizontal agreements on price—it engaged in various actions that demonstrated or orchestrated such agreements. San Juan IPA coordinated joint pricing among its physician members in three ways. First, San Juan IPA was a party to contracts that a joint venture, in which San Juan IPA participated, collectively negotiated on behalf of San Juan IPA's members. Second, San Juan IPA, on behalf of its physician members, collectively negotiated contracts for payment of physician services at full billed charges less a 10% discount, made collective demands, and refused to deal with payors. Finally, San Juan IPA coordinated its members' responses to payor offers for fixed-price contracts, by not transmitting certain offers to its physician members and collectively demanding prices, on behalf of its physician members, from these payors.

San Juan IPA succeeded in forcing numerous health plans to raise the fees paid to its physician members, and thereby raised the cost of medical care in the Farmington area. San Juan IPA engaged in no efficiency-enhancing integration sufficient to justify joint Start Printed Page 30951negotiation of fees. By orchestrating agreements among its members to deal only on collectively-determined terms, and actual or threatened refusals to deal with health plans that would not agree to those terms, San Juan IPA violated Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The Proposed Consent Order

The proposed order is designed to remedy the illegal conduct charged in the complaint and prevent its recurrence. It is similar to recent consent orders that the Commission has issued to settle charges that physician groups engaged in unlawful agreements to raise fees they receive from health plans.

The proposed order's specific provisions are as follows:

Paragraph II.A prohibits San Juan IPA from entering into or facilitating any agreement between or among any physicians: (1) To negotiate with payors on any physician's behalf; (2) to deal, not to deal, or threaten not to deal with payors; (3) on what terms to deal with any payor; or (4) not to deal individually with any payor, or to deal with any payor only through an arrangement involving San Juan IPA.

Other parts of Paragraph II reinforce these general prohibitions. Paragraph II.B prohibits San Juan IPA from facilitating exchanges of information between physicians concerning whether, or on what terms, to contract with a payor. Paragraph II.C bars attempts to engage in any action prohibited by Paragraph II.A or II.B, and Paragraph II.D proscribes inducing anyone to engage in any action prohibited by Paragraphs II.A through II.C.

As in other Commission orders addressing providers' collective bargaining with health care purchasers, certain kinds of agreements are excluded from the general bar on joint negotiations. San Juan IPA would not be precluded from engaging in conduct that is reasonably necessary to form or participate in legitimate joint contracting arrangements among competing physicians in a “qualified risk-sharing joint arrangement” or a “qualified clinically-integrated joint arrangement.” The arrangement, however, must not facilitate the refusal of, or restrict, physicians in contracting with payors outside of the arrangement.

As defined in the proposed order, a “qualified risk-sharing joint arrangement” possesses two key characteristics. First, all physician participants must share substantial financial risk through the arrangement, such that the arrangement creates incentives for the physician participants jointly to control costs and improve quality by managing the provision of services. Second, any agreement concerning reimbursement or other terms or conditions of dealing must be reasonably necessary to obtain significant efficiencies through the joint arrangement.

A “qualified clinically-integrated joint arrangement,” on the other hand, need not involve any sharing of financial risk. Instead, as defined in the proposed order, physician participants must participate in active and ongoing programs to evaluate and modify their clinical practice patterns in order to control costs and ensure the quality of services provided, and the arrangement must create a high degree of interdependence and cooperation among physicians. As with qualified risk-sharing arrangements, any agreement concerning price or other terms of dealing must be reasonably necessary to achieve the efficiency goals of the joint arrangement.

Paragraph III, for three years, requires San Juan IPA to notify the Commission before participating in contracting with health plans on behalf of a qualified risk-sharing joint arrangement or a qualified clinically-integrated joint arrangement. Paragraph III also sets out the information necessary to make the notification complete.

Paragraph IV, for three years, requires San Juan IPA to notify the Commission before entering into any arrangement to act as a messenger, or as an agent on behalf of any physicians, with payors regarding contracts. Paragraph IV also sets out the information necessary to make the notification complete.

Paragraph V.A requires San Juan IPA to distribute the complaint and order to all physicians who have participated in San Juan IPA, and to payors that negotiated contracts with San Juan IPA or indicated an interest in contracting with San Juan IPA. Paragraph V.B requires San Juan IPA, at any payor's request and without penalty, or, at the latest, within one year after the order is made final, to terminate its current contracts. Paragraph V.C requires San Juan IPA to distribute payor requests for contract termination to all physicians who participate in San Juan IPA. Paragraph V.D.1.b requires San Juan IPA to distribute the complaint and order to any payors that negotiate contracts with San Juan IPA in the next three years.

Paragraphs VI and VII of the proposed order impose various obligations on San Juan IPA to report or provide access to information to the Commission to facilitate monitoring San Juan IPA's compliance with the order.

The proposed order will expire in 20 years.

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By direction of the Commission, Chairman Majoras not participating.

Donald S. Clark,

Secretary.

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Footnotes

1.  The comment must be accompanied by an explicit request for confidential treatment, including the factual and legal basis for the request, and must identify the specific portions of the comment to be withheld from the public record. The request will be granted or denied by the Commission's General Counsel, consistent with applicable law and the public interest. See Commission Rule 4.9(c), 16 CFR 4.9(c).

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2.  Some arrangements can facilitate contracting between health care providers and payors without fostering an illegal agreement among competing physicians on fees or fee-related terms. One such approach, sometimes referred to as a “messenger model” arrangement, is described in the 1996 Statements of Antitrust Enforcement Policy in Health Care jointly issued by the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice, at 125. See http://www.ftc.gov/​reports/​hlth3s.htm#9.

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[FR Doc. 05-10682 Filed 5-27-05; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 6750-01-P