The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has fined a membership organisation of private consultant ophthalmologists £500,000 following an investigation into anti-competitive information exchange and pricing agreements. This fine will be reduced to £425,000 if the organisation continues to co-operate with the CMA’s investigation.
The membership organisation, Consultant Eye Surgeons Partnership (CESP) Limited, represents the interests of 37 limited liability partnerships (LLPs) and their 200 consultant members based across the UK. It provides its members with a number of services including access to negotiated contracts with private medical insurers. Each LLP has a representative on CESP’s board.
CESP has admitted to infringing competition law and the CMA has this week issued a statement of objections. The CMA intends to issue a final infringement decision next month.
CESP accepts liability for a number of infringements during the period from September 2008 to date, which include:
- Recommending that its members refuse to accept lower fees offered by an insurer, and that they charge insured patients higher self-pay fees.
- Circulating amongst its members detailed price lists for ophthalmic procedures such as cataract surgery to be used with insurers. These prices did not pass on lower local costs (such as cheaper hospital fees) and made it harder for insurers and patients to obtain lower prices.
- Facilitating the sharing of consultants’ future pricing and business intentions such as whether to sign up to a private hospital group’s package price, which enabled members to align their responses.
The fine includes a discount of £75,000 to reflect the resource savings generated by CESP’s admissions and continual agreement to co-operate. CESP also proposes to implement a comprehensive compliance programme and may benefit from a further reduction in its fine if this is implemented to the CMA’s satisfaction before the CMA issues its infringement decision.
Ann Pope, CMA Senior Director of Antitrust Enforcement, said that as a result of CESP’s anti-competitive conduct, it is harder for insurers and patients to obtain lower fees.
This is the first time formal competition law enforcement action has been taken against medical professionals in the UK. The CMA notes that it is committed to taking action in specialised and regulated sectors including the professions and makes it clear that membership organisations and their members are not outside the scope of competition law or its penalties.