UnitedHealthcare The FTCinvestigates mergers between health-care providers like hospitalsand is reviewing UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s proposed acquisition ofDaVita Inc.'s physician network business. (Photo:Shutterstock)

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Antitrust enforcers should be aggressive in policing mergers inthe health-care industry to keep costs down for consumers, even ifit means a greater risk of losing cases, said Federal TradeCommissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter.

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“We should push the envelope and not be afraid to bring cases,”Slaughter, a Democrat on the Republican-controlled FTC, saidTuesday in a speech at the Center for American Progress inWashington. “If we never bring a case unless it's a sure thing,we're almost certainly under-enforcing.”

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Related: Health care M&A: 2019 starts off with abang

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Slaughter's remarks support the chorus of calls among lawmakersand policy advocates who say antitrust officials at the FTC and theJustice Department need to get tougher on mergers andanticompetitive conduct across industries.

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The FTC investigates mergers between health-care providers likehospitals and is reviewing UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s proposedacquisition of DaVita Inc.'s physician network business.

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Slaughter also criticized UnitedHealth's decision to withdrawfrom the Health Care Cost Institute, a non-profit that collectsclaims data. A spokesman for UnitedHealth didn't respond to anemail seeking comment.

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“This is a deeply troubling development,” Slaughter said. “Ifthey don't want to share the data, it does make you ask, why. Whatare they afraid of us finding out from the data that's outthere.”

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The commissioner also called private-equity acquisitions inhealth care a “really disturbing trend” in response to a questionabout leveraged buyouts in the industry. That echoes concerns aboutprivate-equity firms raised by fellow Democratic Commissioner RohitChopra.

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“It's something we need to look at really carefully,” Slaughtersaid.

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