A federal antitrust lawsuit filed by two related managed-care companies against the Hawaii Medical Association, two physician organizations and five individual doctors, is creating legal waves in the island paradise's healthcare community.
The plaintiffs, International Healthcare Management and Health Hawaii Network, filed their lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Honolulu. The two sister companies, both incorporated in Nevada, attempted to market their own managed-care plans to Hawaiian employers through local physicians and a local hospital health system.
The 19-page complaint alleges that the physicians themselves and through their organizations engaged in price-fixing, restraint of trade, collusion and other anticompetitive behavior barred by federal antitrust law.
The defendants are the Hawaii Coalition for Health, not-for-profit consumer organization representing 400 physician members; Hawaii Medical Association, representing many of the island's 2,000 physicians; Queens Physician Group, an independent practice association of 700 Hawaiian doctors; and five individual physicians.
The two managed-care companies claim that the groups and the physicians organized and participated in a group boycott of the health plan developed by IHM and HHN. They accomplished that by a letter-writing campaign that disparaged the plan and allegedly threatened to use their market power to urge physicians not to sign contracts.
That boycott, the suit alleges, put IHM and HHN out of business and cost the companies an estimated $65 million. In their lawsuit, they're seeking that amount plus punitive damages of triple that amount and legal fees. They also seek a court order barring the physicians and their groups from engaging in this collective negotiating activity.
Stephanie Aveiro, the executive director of the Hawaii Medical Association, declined to comment, saying she hadn't seen a copy of the complaint. Officials from the Hawaii Coalition for Health and Queens Physician Group could not be reached for comment.