Later this month, the Federal Trade Commission will hold a two-day public workshop in Washington that examines health care competition. According to the agency, the purpose of the meetings is to "study certain activities and trends that may affect competition in the evolving health care industry." Among other topics, the FTC workshop will explore professional regulation of health care provider innovations in health care delivery, advancements in health care technology, measuring and assessing health care quality, and price transparency of health care services.

"The Federal Trade Commission seeks to better understand the competitive dynamics of evolving health care product and service markets," according to the agency. "Information obtained during this workshop will enrich the Commission’s knowledge in this critical sector of the economy and thereby support the Commission’s enforcement, advocacy, and consumer education efforts."

In a Feb. 24 Federal Register announcement, the FTC asked for public comment on more than 50 questions the agency will consider as it prepares for the March 20-21 workshop, and may be used in a subsequent report or policy paper. The public comment period is open until April 30. However, to be considered for the workshop later this month, comments in response to the notice must be submitted by March 10.

"The Commission has long been interested in the competitive implications of professional regulation in health care," stated the notice. "The Commission seeks to inform itself of new developments and refine its understanding of the ways in which professional regulations governing the scope of practice for health care providers may affect competition. Professional regulations may protect patient safety, improve quality of care, and provide useful information to consumers who are choosing among health care providers."

In January, the FTC asserted its authority in a recent case to protect consumers from "harmful business practices" in the area of data security. It ruled that HIPAA is not a barrier to security enforcement and that entities covered under HIPAA also may be subject to security enforcement by the FTC.

An Atlanta-based testing laboratory that mishandled patient information filed a claim that the FTC was overstepping its statutory authority because the company was a covered entity under HIPAA. However, the FTC strongly disagreed, voting unanimously to deny the company's motion, stating that nothing in HIPAA or in the Department of Health and Human Services' rules negates the Commission's authority to enforce the FTC Act.

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