|By Audrey Dutton, The Idaho Statesman|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
U.S. District Judge
But he praised St. Luke's for trying to reform a broken health care industry.
"The acquisition was intended by St. Luke's and Saltzer primarily to improve patient outcomes," he wrote. "The court is convinced that it would have that effect if left intact, and St. Luke's is to be applauded for its efforts to improve the delivery of health care in the
Winmill said the fast-growing health system -- the biggest in
CLAIMS BY BOTH SIDES
During a four-week trial last fall, St. Luke's biggest competitors, the
St. Luke's and Saltzer defended their merger as crucial for the successful launch of a new payment scheme in which health care providers are rewarded for high-quality work. They said the deal would help stabilize insurance rates in
St. Luke's argued that a
The health system said, essentially, that its opponents in the lawsuit had cherry-picked records and made specious arguments to foil a benevolent merger.
PRICES FOR CONSUMERS
Although marginalizing competition might not have been St. Luke's and Saltzer's goal, it "appears highly likely that health care costs will rise as the combined entity obtains a dominant market position that will enable it to (1) negotiate higher reimbursement rates from health insurance plans that will be passed on to the consumer, and (2) raise rates for ancillary services (like X-rays) to the higher hospital-billing rates," Winmill concluded.
One of the major arguments St. Luke's made in defense of its purchase was that it could more easily execute its plans for a new payment system if it employed a large enough number of medical providers and patients in
"It remains to be seen how we will accomplish" the goal of moving fully to a pay-for-performance system, said
However, the ruling does not change a new agreement St. Luke's has with
St. Luke's said it expects to appeal.
People who work in health care antitrust law think the ruling could spur more lawsuits from the FTC as it seeks to unwind similar hospital-doctor mergers.
"This is a significant victory for the (
The ruling shows that there is legal power in the FTC's arguments that doctor buyouts can increase a hospital system's bargaining power with health insurers, leading to higher prices, Lewis said.
"What all this means going forward is difficult to predict, especially since St. Luke's has announced its intention to appeal the court's decision," Lewis said. "If St. Luke's ultimately decides to give up the ghost, or loses on appeal, it will be required as it has represented to the court in the past to reconstitute Saltzer as a standalone entity. What that all means and how it will do that is the big question. We are ultimately talking about people, not manufacturing plants."
STILL UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
Documents and testimony indicate St. Luke's offered
But many hours of witness testimony and hundreds of documents were sealed from the public because they were said to contain trade secrets. A federal appeals court is now considering a lawsuit by
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