Thursday, December 08, 2011

FTC Promotes Competition in Health Care, High Tech, Energy Markets, Chairman Testifies

This posting was written by John W. Arden.

In testimony before a House subcommittee yesterday, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz highlighted the agency’s recent efforts to promote competition and benefit consumers in the pharmaceutical, hospital, high tech, and energy markets.

“As members of this Subcommittee well know, competitive markets are the foundation of our economy, and effective antitrust enforcement is essential for those markets to function well,” Leibowitz told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet.

“Vigorous competition promotes economic growth by keeping prices down, expanding output and the variety of choices available to consumers, and promoting innovation.”

Pay-for-Delay Agreements

In the health care industry, the FTC has focused on ending anti-competitive "pay-for-delay" pharmaceutical agreements, blocking anticompetitive mergers, and developing policy guidance regarding new health-care collaborations, said Leibowitz.

One of the Commission’s top competition priorities has been ending anticompetitive "pay-for-delay" agreements—settlements of patent litigation in which a branded drug manufacturer pays a generic drug manufacturer to keep its product off the market for a time. “Settlements like these enable branded manufacturers to buy more protection from competition than the assertion of their patent rights alone would provide.”

For the last 15 years, the agency has taken the position that these pay-for-delay agreements violate the antitrust laws. Some courts have upheld these agreements, causing them to become commonplace.

Health Care Mergers

This year the FTC has brought several merger enforcement actions in the health care markets of hospitals, dialysis centers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and pharmacies, said Leibowitz. The Commission also continues to review mergers between pharmaceutical manufacturers and is investigating a merger involving pharmacy benefits managers.

“With the costs of prescription drugs increasing faster than other health care costs, the Commission is committed to preventing pharmaceutical and related mergers that may allow companies to exercise market power by raising prices,” the chairman noted.

Technology Industries

The Commission has ongoing investigations into potentially anticompetitive conduct by dominant firms in high-profile, high-tech industries. In 2009, a Commission action against Intel Corporation alleged that the computer chip giant used exclusive dealing agreements that punished companies wanting to utilize or distribute competing products. This blocked competitors from reaching consumers with their products and unlawfully
maintained Intel’s monopoly, he said.

Another probe of the high-tech industry—involving the Google-AdMob merger—culminated in a Commission decision not to file a case. “Taking account of Apple’s anticipated entry into the market, the Commission determined that future competition in mobile advertising was not likely to be harmed by the merger.”

Energy Markets

In view of the importance of gasoline pricing to consumers and businesses, the FTC is conducting an investigation of petroleum industry practices and pricing. Among the issues under investigation are whether producers, refiners, transporters, marketers, or traders have:

(1) Engaged in practices that has lessened or may lessen competition in the production, refining. Transportation, distribution, or wholesale supply of crude oil or petroleum products or

(2) Provided false or misleading information about the wholesale price of crude oil or petroleum products to a federal department or agency.
The Commission monitors daily retail and wholesale prices of gasoline and diesel fuel in 20 wholesale regions and approximately 360 retail areas across the country.

Chairman Leibowitz also summarized the agency’s international initiatives and consumer protection enforcement actions, including those focused on Internet fraud and privacy.

Text of the Chairman’s prepared statement appears here on the FTC website.

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