Prices are the major driver of why the United States spends so much more on health care than other countries do. The pricing power that hospitals have garnered recently has resulted from consolidated delivery systems and concentrated markets, leading to enhanced negotiating leverage. But consolidation may be the wrong frame for viewing the problem of high and highly variable prices; many “must-have” hospitals achieve their pricing power from sources other than consolidation, for example, reputation. Further, the frame of consolidation leads to unrealistic expectations for what antitrust's role in addressing pricing power should be, especially because in the wake of two periods of merger “manias” and “frenzies” many markets already lack effective competition. It is particularly challenging for antitrust to address extant monopolies lawfully attained. New payment and delivery models being pioneered in Medicare, especially those built around accountable care organizations (ACOs), offer an opportunity to reduce pricing power, but only if they are implemented with a clear eye on the impact on prices in commercial insurance markets. This article proposes approaches that public and private payers should consider to complement the role of antitrust to assure that ACOs will actually help control costs in commercial markets as well as in Medicare and Medicaid.

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