What Happened:

On 10 September 2019, European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen nominated Margrethe Vestager as Competition Commissioner for a second consecutive term. As part of a structural shake-up of the Commission, involving the institution of eight Vice-Presidents, three of whom will be “Executive Vice Presidents”, she will additionally serve as “Executive Vice President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age”. As head of the competition portfolio Ms. Vestager will be supported by DG-Comp. As chief coordinator of the digital portfolio she will be supported by the Commission’s Secretariat-General. With respect to the latter role in particular, Ms. Vestager will be charged with ensuring that “Europe fully grasps the potential of the digital age and strengthens its industry and innovation capacity” and will be responsible for specific initiatives including new laws governing digital platforms and a potential tax on digital companies. Subject to European Parliament consent, which is expected to be given, she will carry out this dual rule until 2024.

What This Means:

Ms. Vestager’s mission as Competition Commissioner will be based on the following priority actions:

  1. Strengthening competition enforcement in all sectors: this tenet focuses on improving case detection, expediting investigations and facilitating cooperation with and between EU national competition authorities, including global cooperation among competition authorities.
  2. Evaluate and review Europe’s competition rules: this will cover antitrust regulations that are due to expire during her mandate (e.g. the Verticals Block Exemption Regulation (Reg. 330/2010), the ongoing review of the merger control rules and the review of State aid rules and guidance.
  3. Use of the sector inquiry instrument in new and emerging markets: in the context of new and emerging markets, sector inquiries will be carried out in markets that the Commission believes are not working as well as they should, and that breaches of the antitrust rules might be a contributory factor. Ms. Vestager already presided over the Commission’s sector inquiry into the e-commerce sector in 2015.
  4. Develop tools and policies to address the distortive effects linked to state-owned companies or subsidized companies from outside the EU but operating in the EU.

While it is somewhat unusual for a Competition Commissioner to be re-elected for a second term, her re-nomination serves as a testament to widespread appreciation for her unwavering commitment to ensuring consumer welfare. That being said, and against the Commissioner’s mandate to secure enhanced global cooperation amongst competition authorities, the move will likely raise eyebrows on Capitol Hill. This is principally because of Ms. Vestager’s alleged crusade against many of the biggest U.S. tech companies, a path likely to be pursued during the Commissioner’s second term in office. Indeed, her mandate over rule-making related to the digital economy could also give her increased influence over global tech regulation. Furthermore, her mission appears to be heavily influenced by the fall-out of the failed Alstom/Siemens railway merger. It will be interesting to see, for example, what role, if any, industrial policy will play under the EU Merger Regulation going forward. With Ms. Vestager’s focus on tech and her stance on the role of industrial policy under the EU Merger Regulation, her second tenure is likely to be a bumpy one.

The second quarter of 2019 proved to be a busy season for antitrust matters. In the United States, agencies continued to be aggressive and blocked transactions or required significant remedies. They cleared three mergers where divestitures were required; and in the face of FTC or DOJ opposition, companies abandoned several transactions, including between Republic National Distribution Company and Breakthru Beverage Group. Regarding vertical transactions, we continued to see a split between the FTC Republican and Democratic Commissioners regarding whether enforcement is required and the appropriate remedies.

In the European Union, the EC published a report on competition policy for the digital era, which deals with, among other things, acquisitions of nascent competitors. The EC also closed two merger control proceedings subject to divestitures, blocked a proposed joint venture, and showed that it will seek large fines for companies violating EU competition rules for merger notifications.

Access the full issue.

What Happened:

  • Last week, the Antitrust Division reported that it has changed its Justice Manual to state that it will consider antitrust compliance at the charging stage in criminal antitrust investigations, instead of waiting for plea negotiation or the sentencing stage.
  • Previously, the Antitrust Division had granted leniency only to the first whistleblower to come completely clean. Under the Antitrust Division’s policy reversal, this is no longer the only way to gain credit with the Antitrust Division, and the Antitrust Division will now consider if the Company has “robust” compliance programs when determining whether to bring charges.
  • With the announcement this past Thursday, the Antitrust Division published a guidance document that focuses on evaluating compliance programs in criminal antitrust investigations. This is the first time the Antitrust Division has published guidance on evaluating compliance programs in the context of criminal antitrust violations, and companies can now use this document to determine whether their compliance programs are in line with the Antitrust Division’s standards.
  • The Antitrust Division lists certain factors that Antitrust Division prosecutors should consider when evaluating the effectiveness of an antitrust compliance program. These are:
    1. The design and comprehensiveness of the program
    2. The culture of compliance within the company
    3. Responsibility for, and resources dedicated to, antitrust compliance
    4. Antitrust risk assessment techniques
    5. Compliance training and communication to employees
    6. Monitoring and auditing techniques, including continued review, evaluation and revision of the antitrust compliance program
    7. Reporting mechanisms
    8. Compliance incentives and discipline
    9. Remediation methods
  • In general, when analyzing a program, the Antitrust Division will ask whether the compliance program is well designed, whether it is being applied earnestly and in good faith, and whether it works.
  • Finally, the Antitrust Division also revised sections of its Manual on the processes for recommending indictments, plea agreements and selecting compliance monitors.

Continue Reading The Latest: New DOJ Antitrust Division Policy Makes Compliance Programs More Critical than Ever

What Happened:

  • On May 7, 2019, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State signed House Bill 1607 into law. The law goes into effect for transactions closing after January 1, 2020, and requires advance notice to the Washington Attorney General (AG) of certain transactions 60 days in advance of closing the transaction. The intent of the law is “to ensure that competition beneficial to consumers in health care markets across Washington remains vigorous and robust[.]”
  • Parties must file written notice with the AG for any deal that involves two or more hospitals, hospital systems, or other provider organizations that represent seven or more health care providers in contracting with insurance companies or third-party administrators. A “provider” includes a physician, nurse, medical assistant, therapist, midwife, athletic trainer, home care aide, massage therapist, among others.
    • The law can apply to transactions involving very small medical groups, as long as there are seven providers who contract with insurance providers. The law can also apply to transactions with non-Washington parties if the out-of-state party generates $10 million or more in revenue from Washington patients.
  • Given the relatively low thresholds for an AG filing, this law would require notifications for transactions that are not reportable under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act (HSR Act), as well as those that are reportable under the HSR Act.
    • If a transaction is HSR reportable, the parties must submit their HSR filing to the AG.
    • If a transaction is not HSR reportable, parties must submit the following information in writing to the AG:
      • The names and addresses of the parties;
      • The locations where health care services are provided by each party;
      • A brief description of the nature and purpose of the proposed transaction; and
      • The anticipated effective date of the transaction.
    • The notification requirement applies to mergers, acquisitions and contracting affiliations. A contracting affiliation is a “formation of a relationship between two or more entities that permits the entities to negotiate jointly with carriers or third-party administrators over rates for professional medical services” but does not include arrangements among entities under common ownership.
    • The penalty for noncompliance is $200 per day.
    • The AG has 30 days from the date of notice to submit a request to the parties for additional information. If the AG has antitrust concerns, it may serve a civil investigative demand to investigate.

Continue Reading The Latest: Health Care Transactions Will Require Advance Notice to Washington State AG

What Happened:

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), along with the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), approved amendments to the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Rules and the instructions for completing the HSR Form.
  • After the amendments take effect on September 25, 2019, HSR filers will be required to use new 10-digit North American Product Classification System (NAPCS) codes in place of the current 10-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes when reporting revenues in the HSR Form. The Form will continue to use 6-digit NAICS codes, but will switch from the 2012 codes to the latest version, released in 2017 by the Census Bureau.
  • Data on non-manufacturing revenue will be required to be reported using the updated 6-digit NAICS codes, while data on manufacturing revenue will be required to be reported using both the 6-digit NAICS industry code and the 10-digit NAPCS product codes.
  • The FTC intends to update the instructions for the HSR Form to reflect the changes made to the revenue reporting requirements.

What this Means:

  • Companies expecting to file an HSR after September 25 will need to familiarize themselves with the new 10-digit NAPCS codes and the updated 6-digit 2017 NAICS codes, and may want to update their databases to be in a position to file promptly when the new codes take effect on September 25.

At both the state and federal level, antitrust enforcement agencies continue to pursue successful challenges to physician practice transactions. This article summarizes two recent enforcement actions, as well as a new state law that requires prior notice of healthcare provider transactions. We also offer practical takeaways for providers pursuing practice acquisitions.

Access the full article.

2019 MID-YEAR UPDATE

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division announced three new investigations and several developments in its other investigations, including new investigations in the commercial flooring industry, online auctions for surplus government equipment and insulation installation contracts. The Antitrust Division also released its Spring 2019 Division Update, which notes that the Division “is preparing for trial in six matters and had 91 pending grand jury investigations at the close of FY 2018.”

In April 2019, the Division held a public roundtable discussion on the Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement & Reform Act (ACPERA), which is due to sunset next year. ACPERA reduces the criminal liability and civil damages exposure of companies and individuals who are granted leniency under the Division’s Leniency Program for cooperating in investigations into cartel and other anticompetitive conduct. The roundtable consisted of a series of panel discussions allowing judges, attorneys, economists, academics, the business community and other interested stakeholders to weigh in on how the law can be improved. The Division was particularly interested in the public’s views on whether ACPERA has properly incentivized the self-reporting of criminal conduct and whether there are issues that have impeded the law’s intended effect.

The European Commission (Commission) announced developments in ongoing investigations in the auto parts industry, and in its government bonds and car emissions cases. The Commission also launched a new online tool to make it easier for companies to submit statements and documents as part of leniency and settlement proceedings in cartel cases.

US DEVELOPMENTS

  • The first new investigation disclosed by the DOJ is in the commercial flooring industry. The DOJ charged a former vice president of a commercial flooring contractor in Chicago of exchanging price information with its rivals to fix prices of contracts for removal and installation of commercial flooring. Assistant Attorney General Delrahim of the Antitrust Division said that the indictment “is the first of what we expect to be many in this ongoing investigation into bid rigging” in the commercial flooring industry.
  • The DOJ disclosed a second new investigation into bid rigging of Government Services Administration (GSA) contracts. The owner of a Texas company pleaded guilty to rigging bids for surplus government equipment—computers for resale and for recycling—in online GSA auctions.
  • The DOJ announced a third new investigation into bid rigging by insulation installation contractors. A manager for a Connecticut-based insulation contractor pleaded guilty for his role in rigging $45 million worth of bids for insulation installation contracts in New England from 2011 to 2018.
  • The DOJ’s investigation into fuel-supply contracts for the armed services remains active. Two more Korean companies pleaded guilty for their involvement in a bid-rigging conspiracy that targeted contracts to supply fuel to US Armed Forces in South Korea.
  • The DOJ’s investigation into price fixing in the promotional products space appears quite active.
  • In May 2019, state attorneys general for 43 states and Puerto Rico brought federal and state antitrust, consumer protection and common law claims against 18 generic drug manufacturers and 15 individuals for what the States call an “overarching conspiracy” to fix the prices of at least 114 generic drugs. The States’ June 2018 complaint alleged 18 drug-specific conspiracies, whereas their new complaint alleges an industry-wide conspiracy.

EU DEVELOPMENTS

  • The Commission sent Statement of Objections in two investigations: European Government Bonds and Car Emissions.
  • For the second time, the Commission imposed a fine on suppliers of car safety equipment. This is the latest Commission decision in the auto parts industry.

Read full article.

Companies involved in the government contracting industry should take note that the government is honing in on anticompetitive conduct affecting government procurements. The federal government has demonstrated an increased interest in this area, and companies should refresh and audit their compliance programs to avoid hefty civil and criminal penalties and potential prison terms for implicated employees.

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2018 saw a significant upswing in antitrust litigation against health care providers; 27 cases were filed in 2018 versus 17 in 2017. In the latest Antitrust Update for Health Care Providers, we discuss what caused the notable rise, what kinds of cases were brought over the past two years and how they were decided, and what cases warrant particular attention in 2019.

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Standard-essential patent holders and implementers may face uncertainty regarding licensing practices following a May 23 Texas court ruling. In the ruling, a Texas federal judge reached a conclusion different from a recent California court decision—FTC v. Qualcomm—on the question of whether an SEP holder must base its royalty rates on the “smallest salable patent-practicing unit” in order to comply with a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory royalty commitment.

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