AdC sanctions Unilabs' subsidiary for teleradiology cartel
Press Release 25/2022
October 31, 2022
The AdC sanctioned an affiliate of the Unilabs Group, the firm Dr. Campos Costa – Consultório de Tomografia Computorizada – for participating in a cartel established for providing teleradiology services to public hospitals and other public health centers in Portugal.
Teleradiology is the remote electronic transmission of radiological images, such as X-rays and CAT scans, including diagnostic reports by medical specialists.
The AdC's investigation determined that the firm Dr. Campos Costa and other companies jointly implemented strategies aimed at a general price increase in the concerned services, which were provided to the National Health Service (NHS).
The AdC concluded the case early regarding the Unilabs affiliate due to the collaboration of the company. Unilabs entered a settlement procedure, admitting its participation in the cartel and renouncing to litigate in court.
This is the second sanction imposed in the current teleradiology cartel [see Sanction, below].
The sanctioned practice
The firm’s participation in the cartel took place at least between November 2015 and August 2021, with higher incidence and frequency between the years 2015 and 2018.
During this period, the Unilabs affiliate contacted other companies with the purpose of jointly defining which companies, within public tenders for the provision of teleradiology services, would submit the winning bids.
During such contacts, Dr. Campos Costa and the other companies involved in the cartel disclosed among themselves the prices they would bid in the future, so as to ensure that the best proposal would be that of the chosen company. They also agreed that the others would be excluded as a result of the submission of proposals that failed to meet eliminatory tender criteria.
The contacts established allowed the Unilabs affiliate and other companies to share the national market for the provision of teleradiology services in public procurement procedures.
Teleradiology involves carrying out diagnostic tests in a health establishment without the presence of a radiologist or neuroradiologist. The medical specialists remotely receive the images and results of the diagnostic exams performed in the healthcare facilities, interpret them, and prepare the respective report, which they then send to the healthcare facility.
These services are provided to NHS entities, following public procurement procedures. The use of teleradiology is especially relevant in cases where healthcare facilities do not have teams that include radiology and/or neuroradiology specialists to meet local needs, thus making it possible to make up for such shortages and assist in the interpretation of complex diagnoses.
The AdC sanctioned the Unilabs affiliate, Dr. Campos Costa with a fine of €5.038.200.
According to the Competition Act, fines may not exceed 10% of the turnover in the year prior to the date of adoption of the decision. In setting the fine, the AdC takes into account the seriousness and duration of the infringement, the degree of participation in the infringement, the economic situation of the undertakings, among other circumstances (see the AdC’s Guidelines on the methodology in the application of fines).
The fine imposed on the firm Dr. Campos Costa was subject to a reduction, since the company agreed to a settlement procedure, i.e. it acknowledged its participation in the cartel, cooperated with the AdC and waived its right to litigate in court.
The use of this procedure is efficient for attaining simpler and quicker proceedings, while sanctioning the companies that commit antitrust violations. In the settlement procedure, the companies, by acknowledging their responsibility in the infringements, benefit, therefore, from a reduction in the total fine imposed.
This process continues regarding other investigated companies which, so far, have not acceded to the settlement procedure.
The sanction of Unilabs affiliate is the second decision of the AdC issued in the current teleradiology cartel case. In September 2022, another company participating in the cartel was sanctioned with a fine of €202,300.
Priority to combatting cartels
Combatting cartels, in particular in the field of public procurement, is a high priority of the AdC, given the damage they invariably cause to citizens and companies, forcing them to pay higher prices and reducing the quality and diversity of the goods and services available to them.
The violation of competition rules not only reduces the welfare of consumers, but also harms the competitiveness of companies, penalizing the economy.