A rural Colorado physicians group entangled in an antitrust lawsuit last year now hopes to build an outpatient surgery center.
Ironically, the Mesa County Physicians IPA is working with a local HMO, whose contract with the physicians was once said to be keeping other payers out of the market.
The independent practice association has announced it is exploring building the first outpatient surgery center in Grand Junction, Colo., an outpost with two private hospitals in the western part of the state.
"We're creating competition," said William Kelley, M.D., president of the board of directors of the Grand Junction-based IPA.
Working with the IPA is Rocky Mountain HMO, which has said it will contribute money to build the center if that's what it takes to make the project viable.
The center, which could open as soon as next summer, is estimated to cost about $3 million. Besides outpatient surgery, its services will include diagnostic testing, kidney dialysis and an after-hours medical clinic.
"We're willing to put in some money if we have to," said Michael Weber, executive director of the Grand Junction-based HMO.
Mark Horoschak, the IPA's antitrust attorney, said building the outpatient center won't violate a tentative antitrust settlement the IPA has reached with the Federal Trade Commission.
"This is a wholly pro-competitive venture," Horoschak said.
In February, the FTC issued a proposed consent agreement settling antitrust allegations against the IPA (Feb. 23, p. 8). When the government sued the IPA last year, it was accused of engaging in anti-competitive tactics, including price-fixing and refusing to deal with payers other than Rocky Mountain HMO (May 19, 1997, p. 8).
Under its proposed settlement, the IPA was allowed to keep its network, which includes 85% of the private-practice doctors in Mesa County. According to the FTC, the IPA got to keep its market share because -- after it was sued -- doctors began contracting with health plans outside the IPA, and other health plans were able to enter the market.
FTC commissioners still need to give final approval to the settlement.
The IPA's Kelley said patients will benefit from having a less-costly alternative to inpatient surgery in Grand Junction.
The plan is to have the IPA's 50 surgeons be the primary funding source for the facility. The IPA has a total of about 190 doctors, Kelley said.
The IPA also is in discussions with Grand Junction's two hospitals, 51-bed Community Hospital and 273-bed St. Mary's Hospital and Medical Center, about participating in the venture.
Kelley said the IPA has talked with ASC Group, a Park City, Utah-based company that builds ambulatory surgery centers. The company is putting together a proposal, including financing options, he said.