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DOJ withdraws safe harbors-based healthcare antitrust regulations.

After calling the policy statements "outdated" and "overly permissive," the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the withdrawal of three guidance documents pertaining to mergers and antitrust in healthcare.

The documents were excessively lenient on some issues, including information sharing, the DOJ claimed in a news statement on Friday. Some of the documents offered safe harbors to merging hospitals under specific conditions.

The agency stated that retracting the remarks was "the best course of action for promoting competition and transparency."

The DOJ announced that going forward, it will assess each transaction involving a healthcare company individually for any potential harm to competition.

Statements that had been retracted were made public in September 1993, August 1996, and October 2011.

In six areas, including hospital mergers, joint ventures involving specific technologies, hospital participation in sharing price and cost information, joint purchasing arrangements among providers, physician network joint ventures, and physicians' provision of information to customers of healthcare services, the 1993 guidance offered safe harbors from antitrust enforcement under certain conditions.

The DOJ's enforcement practices with regard to physician network joint ventures and multiprovider networks were further described in the 1996 guidance.

The accountable care organizations (ACOs) that are permitted to develop an integrated system of care for Medicare beneficiaries in an effort to enhance health outcomes and offer more efficient care were the subject of the 2011 guidance. Although the Department of Health and Human Services has supported ACOs, the DOJ has voiced worry that some ACOs may lessen competition, raise patient costs, or provide less care.

According to Jonathan Kanter, assistant attorney general and chief of the DOJ's Antitrust Division, the necessity to repeal the guideline is "long overdue."



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