U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has appointed Stacy Sanders as the agency’s first chief competition officer. In that role, she will lead efforts to implement healthcare-focused elements of the president’s 2021 Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy.
WHY IT MATTERS
As chief competition officer, Sanders will lead HHS in data-sharing, creating training programs and developing healthcare competition policy initiatives to address concentration in healthcare markets, according to the agency’s announcement last week.
By working with the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice on enforcement initiatives in labor, agricultural and healthcare markets – which includes prescription drugs, hospital consolidation, insurance and tech – according to a White House fact sheet on the executive order.
The White House said in the fact sheet that greater scrutiny of tech-related mergers, “especially by dominant internet platforms” is needed, naming “the acquisition of nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by ‘free’ products and the effect on user privacy” as areas of focus.
The order also charges the FTC to establish rules on tech market surveillance, data accumulation tactics and competition in internet marketplaces, citing the “extraordinary amounts of sensitive personal information and related data” in order to halt unfair methods of competition.
“Companies that run dominant online retail marketplaces can see how small businesses’ products sell and then use the data to launch their own competing products,” the White House said in the EO’s fact sheet.
“Because they run the platform, they can also display their own copycat products more prominently than the small businesses’ products.”
Sanders – who served as staff director of the Senate Special Committee on Aging for U.S. Senator Bob Casey, Jr. until 2022, when she departed to join HHS – said in the statement that she wants to spur modernization.
“We know that increased competition in the marketplace is a good deal for the American people,” said Sanders, pledging to help “build on steps the Administration has already taken as well as identify opportunities to further spur innovation.”
THE LARGER TREND
In December, the White House said a cross-government public inquiry would investigate corporate greed in healthcare. The Biden administration said the acceleration of consolidations in healthcare markets leads to higher costs, lower quality of products and services and reduced access to care – especially in rural areas.
Private equity ownership in the healthcare industry has exploded, with approximately $750 billion in deals between 2010 and 2020, according to a 2021 American Antitrust Institute and Petros Center report.
Overlapping pharmacy benefit managers platforms worked against a recently failed merger rumored between Cigna and Humana.
Louisville-based Humana manages drug benefits for Medicare, and Cigna owns PBM giant Express Scripts, which it purchased in 2018. Along with Congress looking at PBM reform to help address skyrocketing prescription drug costs, including actions to “promote uptake, access, and availability of lower-cost biosimilars within the Medicare Part D program,” the FTC withdrew its past advocacy for PBMs.
ON THE RECORD
“As the counselor leading HHS’s work to implement the President’s drug price negotiation law, Stacy has successfully taken on some of the most difficult challenges facing HHS,” Becerra said in the announcement.
“Her stewardship has made a meaningful difference in helping Americans save money on their prescription drug costs. I look forward to seeing her build upon this work and ensure the healthcare marketplace remains competitive.”
Andrea Fox is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.