Antitrust laws are laws designed to ensure free competition in the U.S. marketplace by regulating the ways in which companies conduct their business. Antitrust law prohibits practices that stifle free competition, such as monopolies, lockup agreements, certain types of mergers, and price-fixing.
Antitrust law in the health care industry has only developed recently, within the past thirty years. Before the 1970s, antitrust laws were generally not applied to "learned professions" like medicine and law. During that time, however, healthcare expanded from a local profession to a national service. In 1975, the Supreme Court ruled that antitrust law is applicable to the practice of medicine, and other "learned professions."
The two federal agencies in charge of enforcing antitrust laws, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), issued joint policy statements in mid-1996 about how antitrust law applies to the health care industry. The statements create "safety zones" for certain conduct by healthcare providers. As long as the providers act within the guidelines, they are protected from antitrust liability.
Antirust laws, whether federal or state, apply to all healthcare providers, from national health maintenance organization to physicians practicing within a network. The complications of healthcare law and antitrust law increase considerable when these areas of law intersect. If you have a healthcare and antitrust law issue, contact a business attorney with experience in healthcare right away.