St. Luke's fights antitrust ruling that would dissolve physician practice acquisition

St. Luke's Health System and Idaho's largest independent physician practice filed a motion this week to suspend a federal judge's order to dissolve its partnership while it appealed a ruling that their joint venture violated federal antitrust laws.

The Boise-based medical center and the Saltzer Medical Group in Nampa filed a motion in U.S. District Court to stay U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill's ruling. The motion seeks to allow the organizations to pursue an appeal and possibly create a different business relationship that is acceptable to the court.

Winmill's January ruling supported claims by the non-for-profit health system's main competitor--St. Alphonsus Health System of Boise--that the acquisition gave St. Luke's an unfair and illegal marketplace advantage by dominating primary medical care in Canyon County. Treasure Valley Hospital in Boise, the Federal Trade Commission and the Idaho Attorney General also joined the suit. They claimed the partnership would drive up healthcare prices in the area.

The partnership would have a significant effect on referrals to hospitals and specialists in Canyon County, Winmill also said in his findings of fact and conclusions of law that explained his decision.

St. Luke's claimed the acquisition would allow the organizations to transform healthcare in the region by offering integrated care across all settings. It purchased the 40-physician practice group in December 2012. Saltzer has remained under the St. Luke's umbrella since the ruling, according to the Idaho Statesman.

"Our request for a stay pending appeal recognizes, as the court has, that this case presents issues of both exceptional importance and substantial difficulty," John Kaiser, M.D., president of Saltzer, said in a statement prior to filing the motion to stay the court ruling.

"St. Luke's is the partner we chose and St. Luke's is still the partner we want to work with," he added. "They have shown through this process that they are committed to the same ideals and values as we are."

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden told the Idaho Statesman he will respond to the filing. "We intend to defend the appeal with the same vigor we showed during the trial phase of the case," he said.

Meanwhile, St. Luke's President and CEO David C. Pate, M.D., said the hospital remains committed to its partnership with Saltzer. "We remain focused on providing better outcomes for patients by rewarding providers for improving health and wellness and not just for treating illness," he said in the statement. "We will continue to find constructive ways to deliver these positive changes."

To learn more:
- here's the motion (.pdf)
- read St. Luke's statement
- check out the Idaho Statesman article