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Notice

Roaring Fork Valley Physicians I.P.A.; Analysis of the Agreement Containing Consent Order to Aid Public Comment

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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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 draft 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 March 5, 2010.

ADDRESSES:

Interested parties are invited to submit written comments electronically or in paper form. Comments should refer to “Roaring Fork Valley, File No. 061 0172” to facilitate the organization of comments. Please note that your comment — including your name and your state — will be placed on the public record of this proceeding, including on the publicly accessible FTC website, at (http://www.ftc.gov/​os/​publiccomments.shtm).

Because comments will be made public, they should not include any sensitive personal information, such as an individual’s Social Security Number; date of birth; driver’s license number or other state identification number, or foreign country equivalent; passport number; financial account number; or credit or debit card number. Comments also should not include any sensitive health information, such as medical records or other individually identifiable health information. In addition, comments should not include any “[t]rade secret or any commercial or financial information which is obtained from any person and which is privileged or confidential. . . .,” as provided in Section 6(f) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 46(f), and Commission Rule 4.10(a)(2), 16 CFR 4.10(a)(2). Comments containing material for which confidential treatment is requested must be filed in paper form, must be clearly labeled “Confidential,” and must comply with FTC Rule 4.9(c), 16 CFR 4.9(c).1

Because paper mail addressed to the FTC is subject to delay due to heightened security screening, please consider submitting your comments in electronic form. Comments filed in electronic form should be submitted by using the following weblink: (https://public.commentworks.com/​ftc/​roaringforkconsent) and following the instructions on the web-based form. To ensure that the Commission considers an electronic comment, you must file it on the web-based form at the weblink: (https://public.commentworks.com/​ftc/​roaringforkconsent.) If this Notice appears at (http://www.regulations.gov/​search/​index.jsp), you may also file an electronic comment through that website. The Commission will consider all comments that regulations.gov forwards to it. You may also visit the FTC website at (http://www.ftc.gov/​) to read the Notice and the news release describing it.

A comment filed in paper form should include the “Roaring Fork Valley, File No. 061 0172” 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 H-135 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580. 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.

The Federal Trade Commission Act (“FTC Act”) and other laws the Commission administers permit the collection of public comments to consider and use in this proceeding as appropriate. The Commission will consider all timely and responsive public comments that it receives, whether filed in paper or electronic form. Comments received will be available to the public on the FTC website, to the extent practicable, at (http://www.ftc.gov/​os/​publiccomments.shtm). As a matter of discretion, the Commission 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.shtm).

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Constance M. Salemi (202-326-2643), Bureau of Competition, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20580.

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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 § 2.34 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 February 3, 2010), on the World Wide Web, at (http://www.ftc.gov/​os/​actions.shtm). A paper copy can be obtained from the FTC Public Reference Room, Room 130-H, Start Printed Page 7267600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 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 (“proposed order”) with Roaring Fork Valley Physicians I.P.A., Inc., (“RFV”). The agreement settles charges by the Federal Trade Commission that RFV violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45, by, among other things, orchestrating and implementing price-related agreements and concerted refusals to deal among competing physician members of RFV to maintain and raise the price at which RFV’s physician members contract with payers.

The proposed 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 will 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 order has been entered into for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the proposed respondent 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.

RFV is a type of organization commonly referred to in the health care industry as an “independent practice association” because its members consist of independent physicians in solo and small group practices. RFV is controlled by and organized in substantial part for the pecuniary benefit of its approximately 85 physician members. RFV is located in Garfield County, Colorado.

The complaint alleges that since at least 2003 RFV, although purporting to use a messenger model, negotiated price-related terms on behalf of its members for the purpose of increasing and maintaining the rates for services provided by RFV’s otherwise competing physician members. RFV increased rates by demanding that payers include automatic annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs) in their contracts. RFV held lengthy bargaining sessions with payers to pressure them into including COLAs and other terms in their contracts. To protect the automatic increases, RFV refused to messenger contracts with Medicare-based rates because of their potential to decline. RFV feared Medicare-based rates would decline over time.

The complaint also alleges that since at least 2003 RFV and its members engaged in concerted refusals to deal with payers except upon the collectively-agreed upon contract terms demanded during negotiations. RFV organized concerted refusals to deal by requiring payers contracting with RFV to persuade 80 percent of all RFV members and 50 percent of each RFV specialty (“80/50 rule”) to accept their contracts. After a payer satisfied the 80/50 rule, RFV signed, administered and bound all the members to the payer’s contract. RFV refused to messenger the contract of a payer who failed to satisfy the 80/50 rule. RFV reinforced the 80/50 rule by refusing to provide unsuccessful payers with the identity of the members willing to accept their contracts. RFV’s refusal prevented the unsuccessful payers from contracting directly with individual physicians willing to accept the proposed contract terms. RFV also reinforced its concerted refusals to deal by encouraging members to only use the IPA for their contracting. RFV targeted its concerted refusals at national payers and warned members against contracting with them. Most national payers attempting to contract with RFV could not satisfy the 80/50 rule. RFV members did not engage in any efficiency-enhancing integration of their practices sufficient to justify the collectively negotiation or the concerted refusals to deal. Accordingly, the complaint alleges that RFV violated Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The Proposed 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 RFV from entering into or facilitating any agreement between or among any physicians: (1) to negotiate with payers on any physician’s behalf; (2) to deal, refuse to deal, or threaten to refuse to deal with payers; (3) on any terms on which a physician is willing to deal with any payer; or (4) not to deal individually with any payer, or not to deal with any payer other than through RFV.

Other parts of Paragraph II reinforce these general prohibitions. Paragraph II.B prohibits RFV from facilitating exchanges of information between physicians concerning any physician’s willingness to deal with a payer or the terms or conditions, including price terms, on which the physician is willing to deal with a payer. Paragraph II.C bars attempts to engage in any action prohibited by Paragraph II.A or II.B, and Paragraph II.D proscribes RFV from inducing anyone to engage in any action prohibited by Paragraphs II.A through II.C.

As in other Commission orders addressing providers’ collective conduct with health-care purchasers, Paragraph II excludes certain kinds of agreements from its prohibitions. First, RFV is not precluded from engaging in conduct that is reasonably necessary to form or participate in legitimate joint contracting arrangements among competing physicians, such as a “qualified risk-sharing joint arrangement” or a “qualified clinically-integrated joint arrangement.” The arrangement, however, must not restrict the ability of, or facilitate the refusal of, physicians who participate in it to contract with payers outside of the arrangement.

As defined in the proposed order, a “qualified risk-sharing joint arrangement” possesses two characteristics. First, all physician participants must share substantial financial risks 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 Start Printed Page 7268order, 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 RFV to notify the Commission before it enters into any arrangements to act as a messenger or an agent on behalf of any physicians, with payers regarding contracts. Paragraph IV sets out the information necessary to make the notification complete.

Paragraph V, for three years, requires RFV to notify the Commission before participating in contracting with health plans on behalf of either a qualified risk-sharing or a qualified clinically-integrated joint arrangement. Paragraph VI sets out the information necessary to satisfy the notification requirement.

Paragraph VII imposes other notification obligations on RFV and requires the termination of certain contracts that were entered into illegally. Paragraph VII.A require RFV to distribute the complaint and order to (1) physicians who have participated in RFV since 2001; (2) to various past and current personnel of RFV; and (3) to payers with whom RFV has dealt since 2001. Paragraph VII.B requires RFV, at any payer’s request and without penalty, to terminate its existing contracts with the payer for the provision of physician services. Paragraph VII.B allows certain contracts currently in effect to be extended at the written request of the payer no longer than one year from the date that the order becomes final. Paragraph VII.C requires RFV to distribute payer requests for contract termination to physicians who participate in the contract Paragraph VII.D requires RFV for three years, to provide new members, personnel, and payers not previously receiving a copy, a copy of the Order and the Complaint. Paragraph VII.D also requires RFV to publish annually a copy of the Order and the Complaint in its newsletter.

Paragraphs VIII, IX, and X impose various obligations on RFV to report or provide access to information to the Commission to facilitate the monitoring of compliance with the order. Finally, Paragraph XI provides that the order will expire in 20 years.

By direction of the Commission.

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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 FTC Rule 4.9(c), 16 CFR 4.9(c).

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[FR Doc. 2010-3033 Filed 2-17-10: 7:19 am]

BILLING CODE 6750-01-S