Sutter Health, Sacramento, Calif., confirmed that the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division had notified the system of an "inquiry relating to our contracting practices" in May 2004, but Sutter declined to discuss the nature of the inquiry or whether specific practices were targeted. Sutter, which is seeking to issue $271 million in bonds, disclosed the investigation in a Sept. 15 filing with the state bond issue authority. The system said it had not received notice that the review was closed. SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West, which has been engaged in a bitter dispute with Sutter, said the inquiry may be related to a Senate review of hospital group purchasing organizations. But the union said it had no specific knowledge of the matter. The Senate antitrust subcommittee that has been conducting the GPO industry review is scheduled to hold another hearing on the industry Oct. 19. In addition, 26-hospital Sutter was one of scores of U.S. healthcare systems sued in the past two years over billing of uninsured patients. Bill Gleeson, the system's vice president of communications, quoted the department's letter as saying, "The decision to open this investigation does not reflect a belief that any of Sutter's contracting practices are or are likely to be unlawful." Gleeson said Sutter was confident its practices "are and have been appropriate and well within the law." -- by Mark Taylor
Sutter received inquiry from federal antitrust agency
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