Enforcement of Health Care Antitrust Laws to Continue in 2023: Review of Challenges to Provider and Payer Mergers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As 2023 drew to a close, antitrust enforcement in the health care industry remained a top priority for U.S. regulatory agencies. From providers to patients, and payers to pharmaceutical and device manufacturers, all sectors of the health care industry should anticipate robust antitrust enforcement from the Biden Administration in the upcoming election year. This comes as the administration continues to address concerns raised in President Biden’s July 2021 Executive Order, which highlighted the issue of Americans paying too much for prescription drugs and health care services.

Both the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission emphasized the critical importance of safeguarding competition within the health care industry at a conference in October 2023. This commitment was underscored by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Andrew Forman and FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya, who discussed the various tools and strategies available to address claims of anticompetitive behavior in health care markets.

Throughout 2023, both the FTC and DOJ were actively engaged in challenging mergers, pursuing conduct matters, and influencing health care policy. This proactive approach to enforcement is expected to continue into the coming year, with aggressive enforcement and innovative strategies to address anticompetitive practices likely to dominate the regulatory landscape.

A significant aspect of this enforcement effort involved challenges to provider and payer mergers. The FTC and DOJ devoted considerable resources to contest proposed mergers and unravel consummated mergers in the health care industry, with several successful blocks occurring towards the end of the year. This was particularly evident in cases involving provider mergers, such as the lawsuit filed against John Muir Health’s acquisition of San Ramon Regional Medical Center, and the FTC’s actions against U.S. Anesthesia Partners Inc. and Welsh Carson for alleged anticompetitive practices in Texas.

Additionally, payer mergers were also met with legal challenges, including the Antitrust Division’s appeal of the district court’s decision to block UnitedHealth’s acquisition of health care analytics company Change Healthcare. Despite the vigorous enforcement efforts, 2023 saw significant developments in the health care antitrust landscape, laying the groundwork for continued scrutiny and enforcement in the year ahead.