An antitrust lawsuit has landed in federal court in Milwaukee, but this time it wasn't brought by the government.
Instead, it's a case of health system vs. health system.
Green Bay, Wis.-based Bellin Health Systems sued Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care earlier this month over an affiliation agreement between the two that Bellin says violates federal antitrust laws and "unreasonably restrains" trade.
According to the lawsuit, Bellin and Aurora signed a March 1997 partnership agreement to do joint planning and management activities to avoid duplication of services in northeastern Wisconsin. The deal included a provision that Bellin couldn't negotiate or enter into other affiliation agreements with providers without Aurora's permission.
Bellin's lawsuit seeks to have that provision declared unenforceable, saying the two are competitors.
According to the lawsuit, Bellin said none of the cooperation promised in the partnership agreement has happened, and Aurora has refused to give Bellin permission to seek other affiliations.
Bellin, in the lawsuit, said it is interested in affiliating with other providers in both Wisconsin and Michigan, including 115-bed Bay Area Medical Center in Marinette, Wis.
Aurora also is talking with Bay Area about a possible affiliation, said Aurora spokeswoman Diane De La Santos.
Bellin spokesman Tom Schoffelman wouldn't expand on the allegations made in the lawsuit.
"Because this is a legal proceeding, right now we are preferring not to comment and let the courts act," he said.
The agreement between Bellin and Aurora is effective through December 1999.
The seven-page lawsuit was filed Aug. 10 in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee.
A not-for-profit, the Bellin system includes 167-bed Bellin Hospital in Green Bay, as well as a nursing college, psychiatric center, clinics and physician practices.
De La Santos said Bellin has refused to cooperate with Aurora on some joint projects, such as computerized patient records, information services and clinical initiatives.
"We've been disappointed along the way that some of things we thought we would do together we have not been able to do because of their desire not to participate," De La Santos said.
Aurora is a regional system with 12 hospitals, more than 100 clinics and a home-health agency.