The Health 202: House Democrats want more aggressive scrutiny of health-care mergers

Taken from The Washington Post

THE PROGNOSIS

Add “hospital consolidation” to the list of health-care problems on which Democrats want to pressure the Trump administration once they take control of the House in January.

High drug prices have recently captured much attention in Washington, and will probably be the subject of multiple oversight hearings in Congress next year. But the rapid pace of mergers and acquisitions in the health-care industry is also looming large as health systems consolidate, pushing prices upward and potentially reducing quality of care.

Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), who’s preparing to take the helm of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, held a briefing on health-care consolidation earlier this year for the Congressional Antitrust Caucus. He said it’s one of his top priorities to look into  health-care “profiteering” and price hikes next year.

“When Democrats assume the responsibility of leadership in January, we will get to work immediately to promote competition and address monopoly power in health-care markets,” Cicilline said in a statement provided to The Health 202.

And the full committee’s chairman-to-be, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), has also indicated health-care mergers are one of his top concerns, urging earlier this year antitrust enforcers to look closely at the conjoining of CVS Health and Aetna.

Consolidation is a powerful and growing trend in the health-care industry. By next year, 93 percent of most metropolitan hospital markets will be highly concentrated, up from 65 percent in 1990, according to a June report by PricewaterhouseCooper’s Health Research Institute.

And it’s not just hospitals — small private, physician practices are quickly falling by the wayside as they get absorbed into large hospital networks. Only one-third of physician groups were independent last year, compared with almost 60 percent in 2000.

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