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Antitrust lawsuit winners seek $10 million in attorney fees from St. Luke's

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BOISE, Idaho — The winners of a federal antitrust lawsuit against a Boise-area hospital and Idaho's largest independent physicians' practice have filed a motion to recover attorney fees.

The Idaho Statesman reports (http://bit.ly/1mhCJpW) that the Idaho attorney general, Saint Alphonsus Health System and Treasure Valley Hospital are seeking more than $10 million.

The entities filed the motions in U.S. District Court in Boise on Friday seeking reimbursement from St. Luke's Health System.

"The Legislature made it very clear in adopting the Idaho Competition Act that taxpayers should not have to bear the financial burden of defending the law and protecting the marketplace," Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said.

His office is seeking about $1 million, while Saint Alphonsus is seeking $8.1 million and Treasure Valley Health System $460,000. The Federal Trade Commission, which was also part of the lawsuit against St. Luke's, didn't request to be reimbursed for legal fees.

They successfully argued that the acquisition by St. Luke's of Nampa-based Saltzer Medical Group was an illegal market grab giving St. Luke's an unfair advantage. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in January agreed, ruling that the year-old buyout needed to be unwound because it's likely the deal would raise health care costs by giving the hospital a dominant market position.

St. Luke's and Saltzer earlier this month filed a motion to stay the court's ruling pending an appeal.

Ken Dey, spokesman for St. Luke's, said most of the fees will be covered by insurance. But he also said the amount requested by Saint Alphonsus is "certainly not warranted."

The costs "could have been avoided because we believe that the lawsuit was both unnecessary and regrettable," Dey said. "Prior to Saint Alphonsus and Treasure Valley Hospital's decision to file the lawsuit, we had been working with both the FTC and (Wasden) in offering solutions that could have avoided the need for a lawsuit."

In late January, Winmill released documents that influenced his decision in the court case. The documents showed that the planned merger could have raised some health care costs as much as 60 percent.

Among the documents was an analysis by a consultant for St. Luke's who found office and outpatient visits could be billed at amounts about 60 percent higher if the visits were St. Luke's-based rather than Saltzer-based. Other documents suggest that insurance billing rates could increase about 30 percent.

Lawyers for St. Luke's and Blue Cross of Idaho asked the judge not to reveal some facts in the documents, arguing that they contained trade secrets. But Winmill denied the requests, stating that doing so would make his decision indecipherable.


Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com

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