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Appeals court says St. Luke's can keep Saltzer while it appeals antitrust ruling

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BOISE, Idaho — One of Idaho's largest health care providers can continue to operate Nampa-based Saltzer Medical Group while it challenges a prior ruling that it broke antitrust laws in its buyout of Saltzer, according to a recent federal appeals court decision.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Friday the appeal is a top priority, the Idaho Statesman reported (http://bit.ly/1nNRqCv). Acknowledging that federal appeals cases usually take years to complete, the judges said they will schedule the case for the first opening in January.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that St. Luke's Health System's year-old buyout needed to be undone because it likely would give the hospital dominant control of the market and increase health care costs.

The Federal Trade Commission, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Saint Alphonsus Health System and Treasure Valley Hospital filed the lengthy antitrust lawsuit against St. Luke's. They argued the St. Luke's buyout resulted in an unfair advantage because the hospital would control nearly 80 percent of the Nampa primary-care market.

St. Luke's countered that the Saltzer purchase would help stabilize health-care prices, employ doctors and then reward those doctors for working efficiently and ultimately, save patients money.

According to court documents, St. Luke's offered nearly $29 million for Saltzer. It also agreed to allow the practice's doctors keep about $9 million regardless of whether the merger stood up to the legal challenges.

The hospital eventually filed an appeal against Winmill's decision. The plaintiffs objected, saying referrals from Saltzer to St. Luke's competitors were declining.

St. Alphonsus officials said they were disappointed in the latest court decision.

"We hope that as a result the appeal will be resolved as quickly as possible, and that the stay will be of short duration," Saint Alphonsus interim CEO Rodney Reider said in a statement. "We remain confident that Judge Winmill ruled correctly and his decision will be upheld by the Ninth Circuit."

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