A Montana federal judge has issued a consent decree settling charges in an antitrust case filed against a Missoula radiology practice and a joint venture imaging center it owns with a local hospital there. The move resolves allegations made in a September 2004 class-action suit brought by four local businesses, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana and five members of the health plan in U.S. District Court in Butte against Missoula Radiology and Advanced Imaging at Community Medical Center.
The employers and health plan alleged that 13-physician Missoula Radiology signed exclusive contracts with 146-bed Community Medical Center and 200-bed St. Patrick's Hospital not to offer competing outpatient radiology services and restricted the health plan and employers from contracting with other radiologists for services, thereby reducing competition and raising the cost of radiology services. Neither hospital was named as a defendant in the suit. At the time, an official with the specialty group called the allegations "baseless" and said it would defend itself in court. Hospital officials called the suit a misunderstanding.
In the consent decree, Missoula Radiology, its physicians and the Advanced Imaging Center joint venture are prohibited from entering into exclusive contracts with Community, St. Patrick's or any other western Montana hospitals that would thwart competition. The settlement agreement, effective Sept. 21, lasts through September 2007. At deadline, officials at the hospitals and radiology group could not be reached for comment. The defendants settled without admitting wrongdoing.