FTC studying physician consolidation as hospital employment thrives

The Federal Trade Commission is requiring Aetna, Anthem, Florida Blue, Cigna, Health Care Service Corp. and UnitedHealthcare to provide patient-level commercial claims data for inpatient, outpatient and physician services as it studies the effect of physician consolidation, the agency announced Jan. 14.

The FTC will analyze data from 2015-20 to assess the effects of physician consolidation during this period.

The FTC is collecting this data in an attempt to "encourage economists both inside and outside the agency to carry our more retrospective studies to test our analytical tools and strengthen our enforcement efforts."

While hospital-based mergers and acquisitions thrived before COVID-19, acquisitions boomed because of the pandemic.

Hospitals acquired 8,000 medical practices between July 2016 to January 2018, and some 14,000 physicians left private practice to become employed by hospitals, according to a February 2019 report from AJMC.

At the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 70 percent of independent physicians who reported seeking a partner said they were doing so for financial support, according to a July 2020 survey from McKinsey.

McKinsey said, "While autonomy has remained a priority for physicians, respondents indicated that they will consider partnerships or joining a health system as a result of financial uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic."

Note: The McKinsey survey was launched in 2019 and repeated six weeks into the pandemic.

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