A federal judge says a Boise-area hospital violated federal antitrust laws when it purchased Idaho's largest independent physicians' practice.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill made the ruling Friday, ordering St. Luke's Health System to undo its buyout of the Nampa-based Saltzer Medical Group.
The ruling came in a lawsuit between St. Luke's, St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC and St. Alphonsus alleged the buyout was an illegal market grab that gives St. Luke's an unfair advantage, but attorneys for St. Luke's countered that the acquisition would improve patient care and give consumers more options.
Winmill said that it's likely the buyout would raise health care costs because it would give St. Luke's a dominant market position.
St. Al's president and CEO Sally Jeffcoat says they're pleased with Winmill's ruling. "Competition is important to the creation of a vital healthcare environment and fosters innovation, choice, accessibility and affordability," says Jeffcoat.
St. Luke's has come out with a statement, saying its "extremely disappointed" with the ruling. It says "we will review the judge’s findings and conclusions and anticipate appealing the decision." The hospital groups goes on to say "while our business relationship with Saltzer Medical Group may change, St. Luke’s remains committed to working collaboratively with Saltzer."
Dr. David Pate is president and CEO of St. Luke's Health System. He wrote in his blog this morning that he was surprised by the judge's decision. He says St. Luke's won't give up on patients in Nampa and Caldwell.
"The court’s decision calls into question whether accountable care can be an option for the people of Idaho, and specifically those who live in towns like Nampa and Caldwell," says Pate. "We must expend the additional effort and resources necessary to ensure that these residents have a choice when it comes to their health care and hospital providers, though it will undoubtedly be more challenging and take us longer to achieve."
Pate said of those who brought the case against St. Luke's that "though our competitors have, in the near term, achieved their goal of slowing our progress, our commitment and determination is not diminished."
As for what happens next, Pate said "we will review the judge’s findings and conclusions and anticipate appealing the decision. In the meantime, we will determine how we can work with Saltzer going forward to best serve the people of the Treasure Valley."
Idaho's Attorney General, Lawrence Wasden, also released a statement regarding the decision against St. Luke's.
“We are very pleased with the judge’s decision and believe the ruling is good for the residents and consumers of the Treasure Valley and the region’s healthcare marketplace,” Wasden said.
“We now look forward to working with St. Luke’s Health System and the Saltzer Medical Group in carrying out all that is required in the judge’s decision. What compelled me to get involved in this important case is a commitment to ensuring that Idaho’s laws protecting and promoting competition are upheld and that the marketplace is defended in a way to ensure the business climate in our state remains competitive. The resolution spelled out in the decision reaffirms my commitment to those goals.”
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