Patients to foot million-dollar bill for antitrust suits

Patients will likely foot the bill for the antitrust suits involving Pennsylvania's Allegheny Health System, Highmark and UPMC, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported. The legal fees, which could total millions of dollars, would reach patients as higher premiums or suspended access to the latest medical equipment.

According to legal experts, pretrial discovery is a major cost driver of antitrust suits. Certain attorneys are paid by the hour to review each document and decide what information it gives to the other side. Such legal costs will be multiplied by three, since all three healthcare organizations are undergoing the processes, the article noted.

Patients can trace the million-dollar legal fees to when West Penn Allegheny Health System originally sued Highmark and UPMC for allegedly conspiring to stifle competition and raise prices. West Penn later dropped Highmark from the suit after the insurer decided to buy the failing hospital chain for $475 million.

Meanwhile, Highmark last month reached an agreement with UPMC to extend their contract through 2014. Under the deal, the insurer will drop its federal lawsuit claiming the hospital used false advertising, as well West Penn's antitrust lawsuit against UPMC if state insurance regulators approve the insurer's buyout.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court yesterday agreed to review the proposed merger between Phoebe Putney Health System and Palmyra Park Hospital in Albany, Ga. A district court judge last year ruled in favor of the deal to move forward, prompting the Federal Trade Commission to appeal the ruling.

To learn more:
- read the Tribune article
- here's the Supreme Court order (.pdf)