The ACCC is proposing to grant authorisation to HCF and participating dentists to agree the maximum price they will charge the fund's members for some dental services.
Dentists who participate in HCF's More for Teeth (MFT) program agree to cap fees to the fund's members for a limited number of basic preventative dental services at rates set by HCF.
These include services such as comprehensive and periodic oral examination, removal of plaque and/or stain, removal of calculus and provision of a mouthguard.
The agreement means HCF can offer its members ‘no gap’ arrangements for MFT services.
The fund has proposed establishing a number of new HCF operated dental clinics to provide those basic dental services directly to its members and charge the same fees.
It means the new HCF operated clinics will be in direct competition with MFT provider dentists.
By setting prices at its own clinics, while also agreeing price caps with dentists under its MFT program, HCF could be in breach of competition laws if it did not obtain ACCC authorisation.
The Australian Dental Association (ADA) opposed the application. It argued the HCF members would be 'funnelled' towards the fund's own clinics, to the detriment of competing clinics, which would ultimately undermine patient care and competition.
In its draft authorisation, the ACCC said the proposed arrangement "is likely to result in public benefit by providing consumers with greater access to ‘no-gap’ or ‘known-gap’ preventative dental services, and hence at lower cost to those consumers."
It added, "This is likely to encourage the increased take up of these services resulting in a reduced need for more serious dental intervention in the future. The ACCC considers that the proposed conduct will facilitate the expansion by HCF of the MFT program and the opening of new HCF DCN clinics and therefore result in a public benefit."
The regulator said a decision not approve HCF's application would likely result in the fund simply restructuring the proposal to avoid the need for authorisation. It proposed granting authorisation for ten years and will now seek stakeholder input on its draft determination.