Wisconsin and 25 other states asked the U.S. Supreme Court last week to review an antitrust case involving Marshfield (Wis.) Clinic.
The states disputed a decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, which overturned a jury verdict against the 400-physician clinic and its Security Health Plan HMO last September.
If allowed to stand, the decision "will undermine state antitrust enforcement in healthcare," the states said in a friend-of-the-court brief written by staff of Wisconsin Attorney General James Doyle.
The brief said the appeals court ignored evidence and legal precedent "in an astonishingly cavalier manner" by overturning the jury's finding that a separate market for HMOs existed in north-central Wisconsin. It said that decision "could have dangerous consequences for antitrust enforcement in general."
The court also ignored federal and state laws that seek to encourage competition among HMOs and dismissed evidence of a plethora of anti-competitive conduct by the clinic, the brief contended.
The clinic has maintained its innocence. Reed Hall, the clinic's general counsel, hadn't seen the brief late last week, but said the appeals court ruled correctly that HMOs were not a distinct market in Marshfield's territory.
In December 1994, a federal jury in Madison, Wis., found the clinic violated antitrust law to keep out rival HMOs. The clinic was ordered to pay $48.5 million to plaintiff Blue Cross and Blue Shield United of Wisconsin and its HMO, Compcare Health Services. The amount was later reduced to $17 million.
After the appeals court's ruling, which largely reversed the verdict, the Blues plan petitioned the Supreme Court to consider the case, and the clinic filed its response last week.
Joining Doyle were attorneys general in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.