A tentative settlement is in the works in the high-profile antitrust case of a rural Colorado physician group sued by the Federal Trade Commission for anti-competitive actions against managed-care plans, sources close to the talks said last week.
A three-week trial before an administrative law judge had been set to begin Jan. 26 in Colorado but now appears unlikely.
Nancy McCarroll, executive director of the physician group, said a settlement could be reached by the end of this month.
Details of the settlement, which is being negotiated by the FTC and the Mesa County (Colo.) Physicians IPA, aren't known.
"We are trying to preserve the organization," said Richard Arnold, general counsel for the 191-member physician group in Grand Junction, Colo.
The group's size was a major point of contention for the FTC, which sued it in May. It was the government's first antitrust action against a physician network since it relaxed its antitrust guidelines for such networks last year (May 19, p. 8).
In its complaint, the FTC said the IPA represented at least 85% of the doctors in private practice in Mesa County and at least 90% of the primary-care physicians. The group also was accused of fixing prices and refusing to deal with payers.
The IPA has denied the FTC's charges but didn't offer alternative market-share figures in its response to the suit (June 23, p. 16).
McCarroll is hopeful any settlement reached will be "equitable. If you break up a small group, it's to nobody's benefit."
The American Medical Association has backed the IPA in its fight with the FTC. At its annual meeting in June in Chicago, the AMA's House of Delegates passed a resolution calling for an AMA fund-raising effort to help the IPA with legal expenses and to offer direct legal assistance to the doctors.
Also, in a June editorial in its weekly newspaper, the AMA said the IPA was an "innovative" network unfairly targeted by overzealous federal antitrust enforcers.