A crime refers to an act which causes social harm and is punishable by the law. Thus, criminal law is a set of laws that are aimed at punishing those individuals who commit crimes. The core objective of criminal law is to maintain public order safety. There are two types of crimes; felonies and misdemeanors. Criminal offenses which are punishable by fine or jail term of less than a year are referred to as misdemeanors. On the other hand, crimes that are punishable by long term imprisonment are referred to as a felony. An example is a rape case. Antitrust laws refer to a collection of state and federal laws that govern the conduct and organization of business corporations with the core objective of promoting fair competition for the consumer’s benefit (Greaney, 2006). For instance, they can restrict the formation of cartels as well as mergers and acquisitions that can substantially reduce competition. Health care laws are state and federal rules and regulations governing health care industry and its patients as well as the delivery of health care services. Both criminal laws and antitrust laws can be applied in the context of healthcare and can be used against the health care administrators in the U.S.
Nowadays, hospitals, as well as physicians/ nurses/ doctors and other healthcare administrators, can face the prospect of criminal investigation and even prosecution for violating antitrust laws. Over the past years, it appeared as if the healthcare professionals were immune to antitrust laws. Several antitrust issues such as competitors fixing prices and allocating markets and crimes such as rape were perceived to be absent in healthcare (Deborah & Haas-Wilson, 2009). They have however been witnessed in health care promoting the application of antitrust and criminal laws in the health care among the healthcare administrators. Primarily, criminal law is aimed at preventing/ reducing acts that can be considered as crimes such as rape in the healthcare setting while antitrust laws are aimed at creating an industry with fair practices such as delivery of services, prices, competition etc.
Over the past years, before Sherman Antitrust Act was first enacted by the United States Congress in 1890 there were few health care laws governing criminal misconducts. The increase in businesses joining powers to the point of disrupting trade and interfering with free competition led to the formation of Sherman Antitrust Act (Greaney, 2006). This was the first antitrust act which allowed the federal government t0 investigate the business activities they deemed to be competitive. It aimed at eliminating any form of business combination in form of trust that can restrain trade. The trust which in this case refers to the ancient arrangement of contract in which one party trusts its assets to a subsequent party. The government was against trusts which combined large businesses for the purpose of creating a monopoly.
In healthcare, the schemes of price fixing have been in existence since around 1976. They used physician fraud as well as monopolization in an attempt to restrict competition (Deborah & Haas-Wilson, 2009). Since then, there has been a task in differentiating between permissible physical collaboration and an illegal one. Illegal physician combination that aims at price fixing or restricting combination is a criminal conduct under the Sherman Antitrust Act. This has been the basis of contract laws in health care, especially in mergers and acquisitions. So far the measures put forward in such contracts have been effective in maintaining free and fair competition in health care which in turn has contributed positively to integrity. This is because any person or healthcare facility that engages in a contract should consider the Sherman Antitrust Act as its guiding basis. The contract measures are also related to this act that ensures goodwill and transparency in such kind of contracts.
Deborah, H. W., & Haas-Wilson, D. (2009). Managed care and monopoly power: The antitrust challenge. Harvard University Press.
Greaney, T. L. (2006). Antitrust and hospital mergers: does the nonprofit form affect competitive substance? Journal of health politics, policy and law, 31(3), 511-529.