Antitrust Suits Backed by High Court in FTC Hospital Case

The U.S. Supreme Court buttressed the power of federal antitrust authorities, ruling that the Federal Trade Commission can challenge a Georgia hospital acquisition.

The justices, voting unanimously, today said a government body’s involvement in the purchase of HCA Holdings Inc.’s Palmyra facility didn’t immunize the accord from antitrust scrutiny.

The FTC contends the deal reduced competition because the public entity that made the purchase, the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County, also owns the county’s only other hospital, Phoebe Putney Memorial.

The Supreme Court today said the hospital authority couldn’t claim the antitrust immunity that government agencies have in other contexts because Georgia lawmakers hadn’t indicated they wanted to allow anticompetitive hospital acquisitions.

“There is no evidence the state affirmatively contemplated that hospital authorities would displace competition by consolidating hospital ownership,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz called the ruling “a big victory for consumers who want to see lower health care costs.”

The case is Federal Trade Commission v. Phoebe Putney, 11-1160.

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