State lawmakers have fired back against a Federal Trade Commission letter suggesting Senate Bill 8 — a key piece of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's health reform push — violates antitrust laws. The measure is expected to come up for a vote in the House on Tuesday. 

"The Obama Administration is dead-set on stopping permissive, free-market alternatives to Obamacare," Dewhurst said in a statement. "Texas' innovative new health care initiatives will allow doctors and hospitals to work together — improving medical outcomes and reducing health care costs for both patients and taxpayers."

SB 8 gives the Health and Human Services Commission permission to test various performance-based payment programs to increase efficiency and find ways to link payment to improved patient outcomes. On Friday, in response to a request from state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, the FTC released a letter saying the antitrust exemption for health care collaboratives contained in SB 8 “poses a substantial risk of consumer harm, by increasing costs and decreasing access to health care.”

In the letter, the FTC says the antitrust exemptions in the bill are “unnecessary” because antitrust laws already permit health care organizations to form collaboratives. They say the provision to increase allowances for coordinated activity in the bill “goes beyond” what is currently legal and “appears intended to shield a broad range of anticompetitive conduct from antitrust challenge.”

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This evening, Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement that he believes the FTC's concerns are "unfounded and reflect an uninformed or inadequate reading of Senate Bill 8."

"The fact that the federal government is apparently incapable of fostering innovation in the health care sector is an inadequate basis for criticizing the State of Texas' efforts to do so," he said. 

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound and the author of the bill, said the FTC's "interference in our legislative process" is "irresponsible, inflammatory and inaccurate."

"The federal government needs to recognize that its paternalistic, 'one-size-fits-all' approach to health care is suffocating the states," she wrote. 

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