UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
BEFORE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION

COMMISSIONERS:
Robert Pitofsky, Chairman
Sheila F. Anthony
Mozelle W. Thompson
Orson Swindle

In the Matter of

Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., a corporation.

Docket No. 9256

ORDER REOPENING AND MODIFYING ORDER

On April 9, 1998, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation ("Columbia/HCA" or "Respondent"), the respondent named in the consent order issued by the Commission on May 5, 1994, in Docket No. 9256 ("Order"), filed its Petition To Reopen and Modify Consent Order ("Petition") in this matter. Columbia/HCA asks that the Commission reopen and modify the Order, along with four other orders, pursuant to Section 5(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. 45(b), and Section 2.51 of the Commission's Rules of Practice and Procedure, 16 C.F.R. 2.51, and consistent with the Statement of Federal Trade Commission Policy Concerning Prior Approval And Prior Notice Provisions, issued on June 21, 1995 ("Prior Approval Policy Statement" or "Statement").(1) Columbia/HCA's Petition requests that the Commission reopen and modify the Order to eliminate the prior approval requirement. In the alternative, Columbia/HCA requests that the Commission reopen and modify the Order by substituting a prior notification provision for Paragraph II, which currently requires Columbia/HCA to seek the prior approval of the Commission to acquire or to permit to be acquired certain acute care hospitals. The thirty-day public comment period on Columbia/HCA’s Petition ended on May 19, 1998. No comments were received. For the reasons discussed below, the Commission has determined to reopen and modify the Order to set aside the prior approval provision and to substitute a prior notice provision for it.

The Commission, in its Prior Approval Policy Statement, "concluded that a general policy of requiring prior approval is no longer needed," citing the availability of the premerger notification and waiting period requirements of Section 7A of the Clayton Act, commonly referred to as the Hart-Scott-Rodino ("HSR") Act, 15 U.S.C. 18a, to protect the public interest in effective merger law enforcement. Prior Approval Policy Statement at 2. The Commission announced that it will "henceforth rely on the HSR process as its principal means of learning about and reviewing mergers by companies as to which the Commission had previously found a reason to believe that the companies had engaged or attempted to engage in an illegal merger." As a general matter, "Commission orders in such cases will not include prior approval or prior notification requirements." Id.

The Commission stated that it will continue to fashion remedies as needed in the public interest, including ordering narrow prior approval or prior notification requirements in certain limited circumstances. The Commission said in its Prior Approval Policy Statement that "a narrow prior approval provision may be used where there is a credible risk that a company that engaged or attempted to engage in an anticompetitive merger would, but for the provision, attempt the same or approximately the same merger." The Commission also said that "a narrow prior notification provision may be used where there is a credible risk that a company that engaged or attempted to engage in an anticompetitive merger would, but for an order, engage in an otherwise unreportable anticompetitive merger." Id. at 3. As explained in the Prior Approval Policy Statement, the need for a prior notification requirement will depend on circumstances such as the structural characteristics of the relevant markets, the size and other characteristics of the market participants, and other relevant factors.

The Commission also announced, in its Prior Approval Policy Statement, its intention "to initiate a process for reviewing the retention or modification of these existing requirements" and invited respondents subject to such requirements "to submit a request to reopen the order." Id. at 4. The Commission determined that, "when a petition is filed to reopen and modify an order pursuant to . . . [the Prior Approval Policy Statement], the Commission will apply a rebuttable presumption that the public interest requires reopening of the order and modification of the prior approval requirement consistent with the policy announced" in the Statement. Id.

The complaint in this matter ("Complaint") alleged that Columbia's acquisition of Medical Center Hospital (“MCH”) in Punta Gorda, Florida, would violate Section 7 of the Clayton Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. 18, and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. 45, by lessening competition in the provision of acute-care inpatient hospital services in eastern Charlotte County, Florida, and certain adjacent areas of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties in Florida.

The Complaint alleged that the acquisition would eliminate actual competition between Columbia and MCH in the relevant market; increase the already high level of concentration in the relevant market; eliminate MCH hospital as a substantial independent competitive force in the relevant market; enhance the likelihood of collusion or interdependent coordination between or among the firms in the relevant market; and deny free and open competition based on price, quality and service in the provision of acute-care inpatient hospital services in the relevant market.

The presumption is that setting aside the general prior approval requirement in this Order is in the public interest. There is no evidence in the record to rebut that presumption, i.e., Columbia acquired MCH. Accordingly, the Commission has determined to reopen the proceedings and modify the Order to eliminate the prior approval requirement and substitute a prior notice provision for it.

Prior notification is appropriate for acquisitions in the relevant market because the record evidences a credible risk that the Respondent could engage in future anticompetitive acquisitions that would not be subject to the premerger notification and waiting period requirements of the HSR Act. The relevant market is local, and the acquisition price of an acute care hospital, or a portion thereof, could fall below the size-of-transaction threshold in the HSR Act. Accordingly, pursuant to the Prior Approval Policy Statement and the Respondent’s request, the Commission has determined to modify Paragraph II of the Order to substitute a prior notification requirement for the existing prior approval requirement .

Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that this matter be, and it hereby is, reopened; and

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Paragraph II of the Order be, and it hereby is, modified, as of the effective date of this order, to read as follows:

II.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that, for a period of ten (10) years from the date this Order becomes final, Respondent shall not, without prior notification of the Commission:

A. acquire any acute care hospital in the Charlotte County area; or

B. permit any acute care hospital it operates in the Charlotte County area to be acquired by any person that operates, or will operate immediately following such acquisition, any other acute care hospital in the Charlotte County area.

Provided, however, that such prior notification shall not be required for:

(1) the establishment of a new hospital service or facility (other than as a replacement for a hospital service or facility, not operated by Columbia, in the Charlotte County area, pursuant to an agreement or understanding between Columbia and the person operating the replaced service or facility); or

(2) any transaction subject to this Paragraph II of this Order if the fair market value of (or, in case of a purchase acquisition, the consideration to be paid for) the hospital, part thereof or interest therein to be acquired does not exceed one million dollars ($1,000,000).

The prior notifications required by this Paragraph II shall be given on the Notification and Report Form set forth in the Appendix to Part 803 of Title 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as amended (hereinafter referred to as "the Notification"), and shall be prepared and transmitted in accordance with the requirements of that part, except that no filing fee will be required for any such notification, notification shall be filed with the Secretary of the Commission, notification need not be made to the United States Department of Justice, and notification is required only of respondent and not of any other party to the transaction. Respondent shall provide the Notification to the Commission at least thirty days prior to consummating any such transaction (hereinafter referred to as the "first waiting period"). If, within the first waiting period, representatives of the Commission make a written request for additional information, respondent shall not consummate the transaction until thirty days after substantially complying with such request for additional information. Early termination of the waiting periods in this paragraph may be requested and, where appropriate, granted by letter from the Bureau of Competition. Notwithstanding, prior notification shall not be required by this paragraph for a transaction for which notification is required to be made, and has been made, pursuant to Section 7A of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. 18a.

By the Commission, Commissioner Swindle dissenting.

Donald S. Clark
Secretary

SEAL

ISSUED: August 14, 1998


(1) 1 60 Fed. Reg. 39745-47 (Aug. 3, 1995); 4 Trade Reg. Rep. (CCH) 13,241.