Price-fixing detectives are on your case

Louise Banér

Louise Banér, director of the Competition and Markets Authority, gives advice to readers on how to avoid breaching anti-cartel rules.

Fair competition is a fundamental component of a healthy and successful economy. When businesses agree to avoid competing with each other, they undermine this, with harmful consequences for consumers. 

In the case of private medical healthcare, this may mean patients paying more and having less choice.

Earlier this year, I led an investigation into price fixing in the private ophthalmology sector. This resulted in the Compet­ition and Markets Authority (CMA) imposing a fine of £1.2m on a private hospital group for facilitating a price-fixing arrangement for self-pay ophthalmology consultation fees, as well as fining six consultants involved.

This case is not the only instance where the CMA has taken action in the private medical healthcare sector. 

In 2015, we imposed a fine of c£380,000 on Consultant Eye Surgeons Partnership (CESP) Ltd, which broke competition law by agreeing prices, recommending its members refuse to accept lower fees from an insurer and facilitating the sharing of confidential business intentions, including on future pricing, between members.

Just prior to this, in 2014, we also published the final report of our market investigation into private healthcare, which included recommendations on pricing transparency that are now being implemented by the Private Health­care Information Network.

On the radar

The private healthcare sector is therefore firmly on the CMA’s radar and the purpose of this article is to help private practitioners learn from our previous investigations and avoid making similar mistakes.