Monopoly lawsuit alleges HCA intentionally diverted patients from partner ASCs to its own hospitals

A new lawsuit against HCA Healthcare accuses the health system of monopolizing the orthopedic surgery market in Sarasota, Florida and harming its surgical partners with sham contracts that direct patients to the chain’s nearby hospitals.

The case was filed in a Tampa federal court Wednesday on behalf of the doctors of Kennedy White Orthopedic Center, an orthopedic surgical practice that operates out of an ambulatory surgery center (ASC). The plaintiffs and HCA have a partnership agreement to own and operate that ASC.

The lawsuit alleges that HCA has used its majority ownership of that partnership to appoint itself as the general partner and manager of the ASC “with complete control over all decisions involving the partnership and surgery center.”

Those decisions, according to the suit, include “intentionally” restricting the ASC’s scheduling availability, capability to perform higher-acuity procedures, ability to hire “quality” nurses and surgery technicians at competitive salaries and access to medical equipment and supplies at competitive prices.

These actions and others are part of a “premeditated plan” implemented in both Sarasota and “all over the country” to divert patients from ASCs to nearby hospitals owned and operated by HCA, the plaintiffs alleged.

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The alleged scheme not only brings business to the company in the short term but effectively removes other profitable surgical practices from an area market, according to the suit.

It also allegedly limits future competition from individual practitioners by implementing a two-year non-competition agreement and other terms that discourage individuals from terminating their contracts with the chain, they wrote.

“If allowed to continue, HCA’s anti-competitive conduct will ensure HCA unlawfully obtains control of patients’ choice of medical care and the orthopedic surgical market share in the Sarasota area through its attempt to remove competitors and force patients to use HCA via the consolidation of facilities providing orthopedic surgery,” the plaintiffs wrote.

The plaintiffs requested that the court order a dissolution of the parties’ partnership, strike a handful of other limiting agreements, order that HCA buy out the plaintiffs’ remaining ownership units of their partnership and award other damages.

HCA owns and operates four hospitals and four ASCs in the Sarasota area. The chain owns 46 healthcare sites across the state of Florida as well as more than 180 hospitals and 2,000 sites of care nationwide.

"We value collaborative relationships with physicians and are proud of our decades of work together providing high-quality patient care and serving our community," a representative of HCA said in an email statement. "We disagree with the allegations described in the lawsuit and will defend ourselves through the legal process. In the meantime, our focus remains on caring for our patients."