NORMAN, Okla.— The Federal Trade Commission bestowed a rare approval on a proposed arrangement between a large group of Oklahoma doctors and a local hospital, even though people involved with the new network admit that they plan to raise some prices. In a 21-page advisory opinion, FTC Assistant Director Markus Meier wrote that the integrated network’s potential benefits to patients, providers and payers seemed to outweigh its risks. The conclusion came despite the fact that proponents of the new arrangement cannot yet quantify the economic benefits. That’s because the publicly owned Norman Regional Health System and the independent, 280-doctor Norman Physicians Association promised to use health information technology systems and
physician committees to vigorously push for efficiencies between physician and hospital care. The network would create transparency in business dealings and actively monitor for problems in the newly integrated Norman Physician Hospital Organization, according to an FTC filing. In particular, the analysis noted that the new arrangement includes explicit promises that the integrated organization will be nonexclusive and will not prohibit private insurance companies from striking deals with doctors who refuse to join the new network. At the heart of the new arrangement is a model similar to an accountable care organization, in which physicians and an acute-care hospital will work together on a common IT network to coordinate patient care and treatment plans and develop common evidence-based care guidelines.