Morgan’s Monopoly Digest – October 2022

October 13, 2022 Anti-Monopoly Policies & Enforcement

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

Improving Health Care

  • ANESTHESIA PROVIDER UNDER INVESTIGATION. Private equity, which often rolls up companies in a certain sector and cashes out for their investors, has moved into the anesthesia market. The FTC is investigating whether PE-owned U.S. Anesthesia Partners, one of the largest providers in the U.S. operating in nine states, has acquired too much market power and is hurting quality of care.
  • CHAIR KHAN MEETS PHARMACISTS. Last week Chair Khan gave keynote remarks at the National Community Pharmacists Association’s annual convention in Kansas City, MO and met with local business leaders. The FTC currently has a 6(b) study underway to examine harms from pharmacy benefit manager dominance, a key priority for independent pharmacists nationwide. Check out local TV coverage of Chair Khan’s visit with Kansas City entrepreneurs and businesses.
Protecting Small Businesses
  • REVIVING ROBINSON-PATMANWholesalers charge power-buyer big box retailers lower prices, making it more difficult for small businesses to compete and raising prices for consumers. The 100-year-old Robinson-Patman Act (RPA) bans such price discrimination, but it hasn’t been enforced. In a speech in Minnesota, FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya indicated a “return to fairness” by enforcing the RPA. Though some argue this could increase prices, no evidence supports this claim. In fact, earlier this year, 43 members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to the FTC urging them to use all tools at their disposal to fight anti-competitive business practices — including the RPA.
Lowering Prices
  • POTUS TAKES ON JUNK FEES. Big corporations and middlemen impose junk fees” on everything from credit cards to event tickets, costing families and small businesses tens of millions of dollars every year. At its third meetingPresident Biden directed the White House Competition Council to crack down on these unfair pricing practices. Read Economic Liberties’ comment to the FTC on how these exorbitant fees proliferate in the digital ad market.
  • STATE AGS & FTC SUE PESTICIDE DUOPOLY. Syngenta, a subsidiary of a Chinese state-owned company, and Corteva dominate the pesticide market. They’ve used this power to inflate prices for farmers and cause food price hikes for consumers. The FTC and a bipartisan group of 10 state AGs sued to stop this anticompetitive conduct. FTC Chair Lina Khan penned an op-ed in the Des Moines Register explaining how, if successful, the suit also will increase innovation.
Building Worker Power
  • GIG ECONOMY UNDER FIRE. 16% of Americans work for gig companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, often for low pay and at risk of their safety. The Department of Labor released a proposed rule that will classify more gig workers as employees vs. independent contractors, entitling them to greater benefits. The FTC has also issued a policy statement clarifying they will bring enforcement actions against gig companies while rule-makings are underway. 
  • DOJ PROBES FISHING INDUSTRY. Local commercial fishing employers in New England have decreased 30%, causing fishermen to work more hours than ever as foreign investors and private equity have consolidated control of the marketFollowing news coverage, DOJ launched an investigation examining the industry’s consolidation and problematic labor practices.
Reining in Big Tech
  • HOUSE PASSES STRONGEST ANTITRUST LAW IN DECADES. After two years of drafting and advocacy, the Democrats and Republicans came together in the House to pass one of the Big Tech antitrust bills, the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act of 2022. The bill raises the fees large companies pay when seeking to merge, likely increasing enforcement resources for the FTC and DOJ to continue pursuing big litigations. While the bill must return to the Senate, public support from Republican senators suggests passage is very likely.
  • CHILDREN & BIG TECH. One of the biggest blocks to holding Big Tech accountable for problematic content, including child pornography, on their platforms is Section 230. A SCOTUS case this term could change that. In the meantime, plaintiffs lawyer Carrie Goldberg is suing Amazon for selling children suicide kits online. The FTC also continues to highlight how the digital ad market harms kids, and seeks public comment by November 18th.
DOJ Trial Updates
  • SUGAR & HEALTH CARE MERGERS PROCEEDA judge approved US Sugar’s purchase of Imperial Sugar over the DOJ’s challenge. After DOJ unsuccessfully tried to block United’s purchase of Change, a health care software company, the deal officially closed. It’s unclear if DOJ will appeal.

ICYMI…

  • WARREN WANTS AIRLINE MERGER BLOCKED. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called on USDOT to block the proposed JetBlue-Spirit merger.