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Surgical Care Affiliates indicted on charges of labor market collusion

The UnitedHealth Group subsidiary is charged in two conspiracies to suppress competition for the services of senior-level employees.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

A federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment Thursday against UnitedHealth Group subsidiary Surgical Care Affiliates for agreeing with competitors not to solicit senior-level employees, according to the Department of Justice. 

This represents the Antitrust Division's first charges in the ongoing investigation into employee allocation agreements. SCA owns and operates outpatient medical care centers across the country.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

The indictment charges SCA with entering into and engaging in two separate bilateral conspiracies with other healthcare companies to suppress competition between them for the services of senior-level employees. That's a violation of the Sherman Act, the DOJ said. 

From about May 2010 to October 2017, SCA allegedly conspired with a company based in Texas to allocate senior-level employees by agreeing not to solicit each other's senior-level employees. And from February 2012 to July 2017, SCA allegedly conspired separately with a company based in Colorado to allocate senior-level employees through a similar non-solicitation agreement.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

A violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of a $100 million fine for corporations. The fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims if either amount is greater than the statutory maximum.

THE LARGER TREND

In 2017, UnitedHealth Group's OptumCare acquired Surgical Care Affiliates for $2.3 billion. The acquisition of the outpatient surgery chain created a comprehensive ambulatory care services platform for Optum, including primary care, urgent care and surgical care services.

SCA and its affiliates serve about one million patients per year in more than 30 states, aligning with physicians through value-based payment models.

ON THE RECORD

"The charges demonstrate the Antitrust Division's continued commitment to criminally prosecute collusion in America's labor markets," said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the DOJ's Antitrust Division. "A freely competitive employment market is essential to the health of our economy and the mobility of American workers. Along with our law enforcement partners, the division will ensure that companies who illegally deprive employees of competitive opportunities are not immune from our antitrust laws."

"The FBI will continue to work with our partners to root out this type of illegal activity and deter employer collusion that harms the American people and workers," said Steven M. D'Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office.
 

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com