BOISE, Idaho—In a case that will help define how antitrust regulators view hospital acquisitions of doctor practices for years to come, the Federal Trade Commission is scheduled to open a four-week civil trial in Idaho this week in an attempt to unwind the purchase of the state’s largest multispecialty physician group by its dominant health system, St. Luke’s Health System. Hospitals across the country have been buying up doctor’s offices at a rapid clip in recent years, driven by financial goals and a federal edict to coordinate care. FTC officials have expressed interest in ferreting out anti-competitive deals involving hospitals and doctors, but industry experts say the bench trial scheduled to get underway Sept. 23 is the first time the agency has actually litigated such a deal to the courtroom. The FTC says St. Luke’s gained an illegal 80% market share for adult primary-care services in the Boise suburb of Nampa when it purchased Saltzer Medical Group last December, with the goal of using increased leverage to raise prices for patients with private insurance. Hospital officials say the deal is designed to help meet the mandate of healthcare reform to increase quality and reduce costs in healthcare. The hospital closed the deal in spite of requests from the state attorney general’s office to hold off until it could conclude an investigation.
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