Legal Match Between Two Idaho Hospitals Drags On

By Tom Bacon

Federal regulators and lawyers specializing in anti-trust cases are closely watching a legal wrestling match between two big Idaho hospitals. The case involves acquisition of a physicians' practice called the Saltzer Medical Group last year by Saint Luke's Health System in Boise.

A competing hospital in Boise, Saint Alphonsus Health System, however, had tried, but failed, to buy the same doctors' group at nearly the same price, about $29 million. The Federal Trade Commission and the Idaho attorney general sided with Saint Alphonsus, alleging that Saint Luke's had unfairly cornered the health market in southwest Idaho by grabbing up about 80 percent of the area's primary-care physicians. They believe the transaction gives Saint Luke's too much control of the healthcare market and the power to charge higher prices.

Saint Luke's, however, argued that its acquisition of Saltzer will drive down healthcare costs and improve overall health care. At stake is whether the Saltzer deal ought to be undone by a court order.

The Federal Trade Commission and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden think it should be nullified. But Saint Luke's executives argue the acquisition is the only way the hospital and its newly employed doctors can achieve the kind of efficiency and pay-for-value changes demanded in the Affordable Care Act.

Final arguments in the case are scheduled November 7th after a month of testimony.
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