Judge rules St. Luke's-Saltzer partnership can continue during appeal

A federal appeals court has ruled St. Luke's Health System in Idaho can continue to operate Nampa-based Saltzer Medical Group while fighting a ruling that found the acquisition in violation of antitrust laws, the Associated Press reports.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, acknowledging that federal appeals cases often take years, said it will schedule the appeals hearing for January.

Last November, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled in favor of the Federal Trade Commission, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Saint Alphonsus Health System and Treasure Valley Hospital, which claimed St. Luke's purchase of Saltzer, the largest independent physician's practice in Idaho, created an unfair advantage because it gave the system nearly 80 percent of Nampa's primary care market.

St. Luke's argued that the acquisition would mean more stable healthcare prices, create jobs for doctors and reward them for efficient work, ultimately saving patients money. Although St. Luke's filed an appeal, the plaintiffs argued that in the meantime Saltzer physicians weren't referring patients to St. Luke's competitors. 

The potential for reduced referrals was a linchpin of Winmill's decision. "Patients largely accept the recommendations of their primary care physicians as to what hospital, specialist and ancillary services they should use," he wrote in the decision, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Although his decision conceded that the partnership allowed Saltzer physicians to refer patients at their discretion, he countered that such referrals typically favor the hospital that employs the physician.

"We hope that as a result the appeal will be resolved as quickly as possible, and that the stay will be of short duration," Saint Alphonsus interim CEO Rodney Reider said in a statement to the AP. "We remain confident that Judge Winmill ruled correctly and his decision will be upheld by the Ninth Circuit."

To learn more:
- read the AP article