Antitrust Complaint Against St. Luke’s Health

     BOISE (CN) – St. Luke’s Health System is monopolizing health care in Idaho by buying up competitors, two hospitals say in a federal antitrust complaint.
     Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and Treasure Valley Hospital claim top rival St. Luke’s Health System has made “sweeping” acquisitions, including 22 physician practices, five hospitals and four outpatient surgery centers in the past 4 years.
     Now, the hospitals say, St. Luke’s is “poised” to buy Idaho’s largest and oldest physician practice, Saltzer Medical Group. If this acquisition goes through, competition for health care in Idaho and eastern Oregon will be “irreparably harmed,” according to the complaint.
     St. Alphonsus claims that such a monopoly will boost health care costs above competitive levels. Of chief concern, however, is the Saltzer acquisition, which would affect St. Alphonsus’ operations in the Nampa, Idaho market.
     “Most urgently and irreparably, St. Luke’s acquisition of Saltzer will deal a crippling financial blow to St. Alphonsus Nampa hospital, which depends on the admissions from the Saltzer physicians,” the complaint states.
     “The acquisitions will likely cause the loss of more than 140 jobs and the reduction or termination of key services. Since St. Alphonsus Nampa is a critical ‘safety net’ hospital for the poor, uninsured and underserved of Nampa, such actions will create devastating consequences for the Nampa community.”
     Treasure Valley, which provides low-cost care to Boise area residents, also depends on Saltzer patients.
     “More than 40 percent of Treasure Valley Hospital’s inpatient and outpatient cases are performed by Saltzer physicians,” the complaint states. “If St. Luke’s acquires Saltzer, Treasure Valley Hospital would likely need to lay off 10 percent of its staff and cancel, or delay, planned capital improvements.”
     Those improvements include a new CT scanner, more operating rooms and improvements to its electronic medical records system.
     “The transaction will irreparably harm all the plaintiffs, because it will provide St. Luke’s with a greater ability to obtain exclusive or preferential treatment from payors and employers, disrupt plaintiffs’ provider networks offered to managed care and employers, and thereby interfere with the relationship between plaintiffs on the one hand and payors and employees on the other,” the complaint states. “This anticompetitive interference will obstruct the ability of consumers and patients to benefit from competition for the highest quality product at the best price.”
     St. Alphonsus says St. Luke’s Saltzer acquisition is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and the Idaho Attorney General. It says time is of the essence, as St. Luke intends to consummate the deal quickly, despite requests by the state attorney general that it delay the transaction until after the investigation.
     The plaintiffs seek an injunction preventing the Saltzer acquisition, and treble damages for antitrust violations and Idaho law.
     Plaintiffs’ lead counsel is Keely Duke with Duke Scanlan & Hall, of Boise.

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