Physician Group Loses Price-Fixing Challenge

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The 5th Circuit affirmed the Federal Trade Commission’s finding that some of North Texas Specialty Physicians’ research methods, including openly polling doctors about their fees, constituted horizontal price fixing.

     NTSP arranges contracts between physicians and payers, such as insurance companies and HMOs. It polls its physicians annually, asking the minimum rate each would accept for fee-for-service contracts. NTSP uses these responses to establish a minimum contract fee for negotiations with managed-care companies. It then reports the mean, medium and mode poll fees to its participating physicians, and reminds them of the poll results from the previous year.
     The FTC claimed that this procedure allowed physicians to maintain higher fees, in violation of antitrust laws.
     NTSP rejected the notion of any collusion or concerted action among affiliated physicians.
     The appeals court backed the FTC, even though the commission had not conducted a full-blown market analysis. “The commission’s determination that NTSP’s conduct, taken as a whole, amounted to horizontal price fixing that is unrelated to pro-competitive efficiencies is supported by the law and substantial evidence,” Judge Owen wrote.

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