St. Luke's Health System won't be forced to give up its recently acquired physician group just yet, a federal appeals court decided Wednesday.
The Idaho-based health system hinted that it may ask for a rehearing of the antitrust case it recently lost on the matter, although a St. Luke's spokeswoman said Thursday that no decision has been made about making such a request.
Hospitals across the country have been watching the case closely because it was the first litigation over a Federal Trade Commission case involving a physician practice deal made by a hospital that already had a physician practice group. The case comes as providers are increasingly interested in consolidation to improve coordination of care and lower costs.
Plaintiffs in the case had urged the court to lift its stay on a lower court's order for St. Luke's to divest its Saltzer Medical Group after the court in February ruled the deal anti-competitive.
But St. Luke's argued in a court filing this week that forcing it to divest the group immediately would rob it of the right to ask for a rehearing en banc, or before a full panel of the court.
St. Luke's argued that it has “substantial grounds to support a petition for rehearing that would raise multiple serious legal questions.”
The health system contends that some of the three-judge panel's findings are in conflict. It also asserts that the panel's rejection of the idea that improving medical care is good for competition was inconsistent with other court decisions.
“The issues that St. Luke's will raise on a petition for rehearing en banc will be serious and substantial,” St. Luke's said in the court filing. “They are of vital importance not only to the parties but, more generally, to the development of antitrust analysis and to the harmonization of that analysis with federal healthcare policy.”
The plaintiffs in the case—which include the FTC, the state of Idaho and St. Luke's competitors St. Alphonsus Health System and Treasure Valley Hospital—had argued the divestiture should move forward quickly.
“It's high time to undo this anti-competitive and unlawful acquisition, which the Court has now recognized poses significant threats to competition,” the plaintiffs wrote in a court filing in February.
St. Luke's had argued that the acquisition would help it improve care for the communities it serves, but the plaintiffs said it would lead to higher prices for health plans and consumers.
The 9th Circuit Court in Portland, Ore., ruled in February that it wasn't enough for St. Luke's to say the deal would improve care. St. Luke's failed to show the deal wouldn't hurt competition, the court said.
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