Monday, February 19, 2018

FTC Sues Dental Products Distributors for Alleged Conspiracy Not to Provide Discounts to a Customer Segment

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Complaint names nation’s three largest dental suppliers: Benco Dental Supply Company, Henry Schein, Inc. and Patterson Companies, Inc.

The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against the nation’s three largest dental supply companies, a public version of which will be linked to this news release shortly, alleging that they violated U.S. antitrust laws by conspiring to refuse to provide discounts to or otherwise serve buying groups representing dental practitioners. These buying groups sought lower prices for dental supplies and equipment on behalf of solo and small-group dental practices seeking to gain discounts by aggregating and leveraging the collective purchasing power and bargaining skills of the individual practices. The complaint also alleges an FTC Act Section 5 violation against Benco for inviting a fourth competing distributor to join the conspiracy.

The alleged agreement among Benco, Henry Schein and Patterson deprived independent dentists of the benefits of participating in buying groups that purchase dental supplies from national, full-service distributors. As full-service dental distributors, Benco, Henry Schein and Patterson offer gloves, cements, sterilization products and a range of other consumable supplies, as well as equipment, such as dental chairs and lights. Collectively, the big three control more than 85 percent of all distributor sales of dental products and services nationwide. The U.S. market for dental products is valued at approximately $10 billion. The dental practices that would have benefited from the discounts achieved by these buying groups were small businesses comprised of solo or small groups of dentists.

Benco and Henry Schein allegedly entered into an agreement refusing to provide discounts to or compete for the business of buying groups. The complaint details communications between executives of the two companies evidencing the agreement, as well as attempts to monitor and ensure compliance with the agreement. The complaint also asserts that Patterson joined the agreement. The complaint charges Benco, Henry Schein and Patterson of conspiring in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The complaint also alleges that on multiple occasions, Benco invited Burkhart Dental Supply – a regional distributor and the fourth largest full-service distributor in the United States – to refuse to provide discounts to buying groups. As a result of this conduct, the complaint separately charges Benco with a Section 5 invitation to collude count.

Based on the agreement among the distributors, the complaint contends that Benco, Henry Schein and Patterson unreasonably restrained price competition for dental products in the United States; distorted prices and undermined the ability of independent dentists to obtain lower prices and discounts for dental products; deprived independent dentists of the benefits of vigorous price and service competition among full-service, national dental distributors; unreasonably reduced output of dental products to dental buying groups; and eliminated or reduced the competitive bidding process for sales to these buying groups. This case reflects the Commission’s ongoing efforts to ensure competition in the healthcare industry.

The Commission vote to issue the administrative complaint was 2-0. The administrative trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 16, 2018.

NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. A complaint constitutes an allegation, but does not constitute a determination that the law has been violated as alleged.

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