The so-called state action doctrine is a judicially created formula for resolving conflicts between federal antitrust policy and state policies that seem to authorize conduct that antitrust law would prohibit. Against the background of recent commentaries by the federal antitrust agencies, this article reviews the doctrine and discusses its application in the health care sector, focusing on the ability of states to immunize anticompetitive actions by state licensing and regulatory boards, hospital medical staffs, and public hospitals, as well as anticompetitive mergers and agreements. Although states are free, as sovereign governments, to restrict competition, the state action doctrine requires that “the state itself” make the decision to do so. Partly on the basis of problems in the political environment, the article criticizes courts for using a mere “foreseeability” test to decide whether a state legislature sufficiently authorized competitors to act in contravention of clear federal policy: “Few things are more foreseeable than that a trade or profession empowered to regulate itself will produce anticompetitive regulations.”

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