The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has decided not to allow members of the Australian Society of Ophthalmologists (ASO) to reach agreements within shared practices as to the fees to be charged for ophthalmic services.
There are around 810 practicing ophthalmologists (eye surgeons) in Australia, with most working in major cities. The ASO represents 60 per cent of ophthalmologists.
“The ACCC considers that allowing ophthalmology practices to set common fees for services, within each shared practice, may result in higher prices for patients by reducing competition for ophthalmic services,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
The ACCC has previously authorised fee setting conduct in shared practices of GPs and dentists. These professions have much higher numbers of practitioners, which reduced the likely anticompetitive effects. In these arrangements, common fee setting also facilitated shared practices within these professions.
The ACCC notes that the majority of ophthalmologists are currently participating in shared practices and are already able to benefit from the greater efficiencies and cost savings these bring.
While the ACCC has authorised fee setting arrangements between ophthalmologists practising in Vision Group clinics, the ACCC considers greater benefits arose in this matter due to the branding of Vision Group and its business model, which gave rise to a greater consumer expectation of consistent prices.
Authorisation provides statutory protection from court action for conduct that might otherwise raise concerns under the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. Broadly, the ACCC may grant an authorisation when it is satisfied that the public benefit from the conduct outweighs any public detriment.