Senators criticize US Anesthesia Partners for 'anticompetitive scheme'

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut are calling for U.S. Anesthesia Partners and its private equity partner Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe to answer for what a federal agency called an "anticompetitive scheme." 

The Federal Trade Commission sued the anesthesia staffing and private equity firm in September, alleging the two groups executed a scheme to consolidate anesthesiology practices in Texas, hike up the price of anesthesia services provided to Texas patients and increase their own profits. 

In a letter to Robert Coward, CEO of U.S. Anesthesia Partners, the senators accuse the company of employing restrictive noncompete agreements and monopolistic business practices. 

"USAP is emblematic of the longstanding problems associated with private equity's involvement in our healthcare system," the letter says. "USAP has used anticompetitive practices to build up monopoly power, which it has leveraged to decrease quality of care, increase costs for patients and reduce physician autonomy."

The letter claims that after USAP purchased Denver's largest anesthesiology group in 2015, the company began raising patient and payer costs, sometimes more than 70% competitor rates. 

"We are proud of our investment in USAP, which has allowed independent anesthesiologists to deliver superior clinical outcomes to underserved populations," a Welsh Carson spokesperson said in a statement shared with Becker's in September. "The FTC's action will harm clinicians and patients at a time of physician shortages. Moreover, the FTC is ignoring that USAP's commercial rates have not exceeded the rate of medical cost inflation for close to 10 years. The FTC's decision to pursue a civil action against a minority investor of a physician-owned company is unprecedented and disregards well-settled principles of law."

The letter asks for U.S. Anesthesia Partners to respond to a set of questions, which are centered around USAP's alleged use of price-driven monopoly power, by Dec. 11.

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