United States: Healthcare Costs Can Rise When Hospitals Acquire Medical Groups

Last Updated: April 17 2015
Article by Bill Brause

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has triggered a wave of medical group mergers and acquisitions, as providers look for ways to succeed in a rapidly changing marketplace. The transactions are supposed to help contain costs as well as improve care, but regulators, researchers and the courts say that deals between medical groups and hospitals can instead increase healthcare costs.  

ACA is driving consolidation

Although medical group mergers are not a new phenomenon, the current consolidation is different because it is being driven by a huge ACA-related shift in how providers get paid. This shift―from a payment model based on volume to one based on quality of care―is a main component of healthcare reform.

Unlike the traditional fee-for-service structure, the new quality-based model rewards providers for keeping patients healthy in a cost-effective way. It's a data-driven new approach that requires a higher level of organization and service integration, as well as electronic health record technology. Meeting these requirements can be costly and complicated, so providers are joining forces and merging to better implement the necessary changes. 

Deal activity has slowed from the initial post-ACA boom but is still strong. According to industry analysts Irving Levin and Associates, there were 57 medical group M&A deals in 2014―12% lower than the 65 reported in 2013 and well below the peak of 115 recorded in 2011, but still a historically robust number. The deals include physician-hospital mergers and mergers between medical groups.  

A 2014 survey, of more than 20,000 physicians nationwide, by recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins found that 30.5% of physicians are now employed by a hospital and 22.4% are employed by a medical group. Another 34.6% are in private practice and 12.5% are otherwise employed. In addition, 50% work in groups of 11 or more.

Court rules against merger

Mergers are supposed to improve care and generate operational efficiencies that will help contain healthcare spending.  However, opponents of the deals contend that hospital acquisitions of medical groups can raise healthcare costs, and a recent court decision supports this view.  

In early February, a federal appeals court affirmed a lower court's 2014 ruling that ordered St. Luke's Health System in Idaho to unwind its 2012 acquisition of Saltzer Medical Group, the state's largest independent physician group. The case, which was filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and another local hospital, is the first lawsuit to challenge a hospital acquisition of a medical group.  

Opponents say that hospital-medical group deals ultimately raise costs for consumers because they give hospitals more bargaining leverage against insurers, and because physicians that work for a hospital are more likely to automatically refer patients there. Hospitals also bill for services performed in their physicians' offices at the hospital facility rate, which is higher than the rate an independent physician can charge for the same service.

In the St. Luke's case, the FTC successfully argued that the merger violated antitrust laws and would raise healthcare prices. The court did not dispute St. Luke's claim that the combination would improve care, but said that the hospital and the physicians could collaborate to share information and improve care without a merger. (Accountable care organizations and regional collaboratives are some of the alternate ways in which providers can work together without merging.)

In the future, prospective deal partners will need to carefully consider the antitrust implications of their transactions. The closely watched St. Luke's case could have an impact on hospital-physician mergers nationwide. During the appeals process, the attorneys general of 16 states (including California) filed a friend-of-the-court brief stating that hospital acquisitions of medical groups had raised healthcare prices in their states.

Study says mergers increase healthcare costs

A recent study published in the Oct. 22/29, 2014, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association also points to higher costs from hospital-physician mergers. The researchers, led by UC Berkeley health policy professor James C. Robinson, compared the total cost of care for 4.5 million patients treated by hospital-owned and independent physician groups between 2009 and 2012.

The study found that after adjusting for patient severity and other factors, the cost per patient for care provided by local hospital-owned physician groups was 10.3% higher than for care provided by physician-owned groups. Care from groups owned by multihospital systems cost 19.8% more than care from physician-owned groups. Of the 158 total groups in the study, 75% were physician-owned, 12% were owned by local hospitals and 13% were owned by multihospital systems.

Consolidation likely to continue

Although regulators are looking more closely at mergers' potential effect on local markets, the "bigger is better" trend shows little sign of ending any time soon. As healthcare reform continues to change the industry, providers will likely keep joining forces to succeed in the new value-based environment.  The transactions can lead to a better quality of care for patients. However, they may not have the intended effect initially sought—cost containment of healthcare spending.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.