The Medical Group Management Association has filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Marshfield (Wis.) Clinic in its antitrust litigation with Blue Cross and Blue Shield United of Wisconsin.
However, MGMA Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Frederick J. "Fritz" Wenzel, who was the clinic's administrator until 1993 and still works as a consultant to theAntitrust
clinic, bowed out of the matter, said Patrick M. Ryan, MGMA's corporate counsel.
Oral arguments are scheduled for this week in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
Ryan said Wenzel, as a member of the staff, normally would contribute advice to the MGMA board. The board voted to file the brief, along with the American Medical Association and the State Medical Society of Wisconsin.
"The MGMA board considered (the Marshfield dispute) a matter of major significance to its membership," Ryan said.
MGMA, headquartered in Englewood, Colo., represents more than 6,800 group practices and 17,000 administrators and managers, who work with more than 137,000 doctors.
The brief argues that an antitrust ruling against the clinic discourages the development of physician networks, particularly in rural areas, and inhibits doctors from creating HMOs.
In addition, it argues that the lower court's condemnation of noncompete clauses used by Marshfield removes an important tool for medical groups to protect their "considerable investment" in recruiting other doctors, particularly in rural areas.
According to the brief, Marshfield spends an average of $20,000 to $30,000 to recruit a doctor, not including staff time and training.
A federal jury in Madison, Wis., late last year found that the 430-physician clinic and its Security Health Plan HMO violated antitrust laws and subsequently awarded plaintiff Blue Cross $54 million in damages. U.S. District Judge John Shabaz lowered the award to $17 million.
Blue Cross is trying to establish an HMO that would compete with Security Health Plan in central and northern Wisconsin.