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NMa Suspects Associations of Psychologists and Psychotherapists of Price Agreements

The Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa), following an investigation, has drawn up a report on four branch associations of psychologists and psychotherapists for issuing recommended prices to their members. This relates to independent healthcare providers who are not subject to price regulation. NMa suspects that the associations involved, Nederlands Instituut van Psychologen (NIP) (Netherlands Institute of Psychologists), Landelijke Vereniging van Eerstelijnspsychologen (LVE) (National Association of Psychologists in Primary Healthcare), Nederlandse Vereniging voor Psychotherapie (NVP) (Netherlands Association for Psychotherapy) and Nederlandse Vereniging van Vrijgevestigde Psychotherapeuten (NVVP) (Netherlands Association of Independent Psychotherapists) have infringed the Competition Act by doing so.

From NMa's investigation, it appears that the associations involved have recommended an hourly rate to their members, to be charged to their patients, and the annual increase in this. Price recommendations by branch associations are viewed as a form of price agreement between the members of these associations and are therefore prohibited. The consequences of such agreements are higher prices for buyers and a reduced incentive to save on costs. Psychologists and psychotherapists ought to determine their prices independently of each other. They ought to compete for the patronage of patients without mutual agreements or coordination by the branch association. If they do enter into agreements which restrict competition, this is to the disadvantage of patients. Since the members of NIP, LVE, NVP and NVVP represent approximately 60% of the market, these price recommendations have an appreciable effect, which was to the direct disadvantage of patients. Furthermore, NMa has strong evidence that the recommended tariffs were actually applied in practice. The occurrences investigated occurred in the period from 1 January 1998 up to the present.

NMa partly based its investigation on data collected during on-site inspections at the premises of four associations. The branch associations involved may now respond to the report. After this, NMa will take a final decision on whether an infringement has been committed and, if so, whether a fine and/or an order subject to a penalty will be imposed.

This report fits within the framework of the investigation into the healthcare sector which NMa is carrying out in 2003, as announced earlier in NMa Agenda 2003. This sector is undergoing a change from supply-driven to more demand-driven healthcare. One of the points of departure of government policy is that the operation of market forces can assist in bringing about a better match between supply and demand. More market forces in the healthcare sector may also result in efficiency improvements, as a result of which the sharp increase in costs may be restrained. If a demand-driven healthcare sector is to be realised, it is crucial that competition between market players is not restricted. NMa takes action against such prohibited anti-competitive practices. NMa is investigating both the supply and the demand side of the market.