BOISE -- A federal judge has unsealed his reasons for ruling against St. Luke's in an antitrust lawsuit. That ruling came down Friday, with the judge telling St. Luke's it must undo a multi-million dollar deal for the purchase of Saltzer Medical Group in Nampa.
Saint Alphonsus, the Idaho Attorney General, and the Federal Trade Commission, the winners in this one, sued saying the deal created unfair competition. With the acquisition, St. Luke's effectively had 80 percent of the primary care providers in Nampa under its umbrella.
On Friday, we knew Judge B. Lynn Winmill decided the deal was illegal under antitrust laws, and said in the order his decision had to do with leverage over health insurance plans that could drive up health care costs for consumers. Now with the findings of fact unsealed, some more specifics were released, some of which St. Luke's and Blue Cross didn't want revealed to their competition or publicly.
After Winmill ruled the Saltzer deal must be unwound, St. Luke's and Blue Cross filed objections to releasing the 52 page court findings in full.
Amongst things they wanted kept from the public: Specific figures about hospital-based billing rates for things like x-rays (which court documents revealed Blue Cross estimated could have gone up 30 to 35 percent). Also, they wanted redactions on references to St. Luke's reimbursements from Blue Cross of Idaho growing from an average amount in 2007 to a top-five amount in 2012, with St. Luke's top hospital getting reimbursements 21 percent higher than the average Idaho hospital.
"We made a motion to have some of that redacted, but we agree with the judge's reasoning, so we're fine with him releasing that," St. Luke's spokesman Ken Dey said.
St. Luke's plans to appeal, and in that, bring forward some disagreements that have to do with the reimbursement rate data we've now seen in the unsealed court findings.
"We know for example that St. Luke's is about mid-range of reimbursement rates from what we understand, and we're not at the high range as Blue Cross suggested or the Court accepted, so we'll be looking at those and as we pursue an appeal we'll address those issues," Dey said.
Right now, St. Luke's and Saltzer remain together unchanged, and St. Luke's plans to ask the court to keep it that way until the appeal is heard. Throughout the trial, Saltzer noted it could be in financial trouble without the deal in tact.
"It will be a process, we'll have to figure out what happens. But there are some obvious concerns if Saltzer does unwind whether they can maintain themselves going forward," Dey said.
In the judge's findings, he said St. Luke's and Saltzer couldn't use the medical group's financial viability as a reason the deal should stand, in part because even if unwound, Saltzer gets to keep $9 million.
Both St. Luke's and Saltzer tell KTVB it's uncertain what would happen if they ultimately have to unwind, with both saying they'll figure something out for patient care.
When KTVB asked Saltzer's spokeswoman Janet Miller about what could happen, she said it was too early to say: "I don't think anyone knows the answer to that but we will provide care for our patients."
Blue Cross of Idaho said Wednesday it's glad things are wrapping up and is now focusing on moving forward.
"There are a lot of outcomes that might have been different from the outcome we saw that might have affected us differently, but I think it's best just to focus on the fact that moving forward that we'll be able to work with all the doctors and the hospitals in the state on working toward a better system that rewards quality over quantity of services," said Karen Early, with Blue Cross of Idaho.
St. Luke's says there is no timeline for unwinding or appealing, though Dey says the intent is to file soon and get it over with sooner rather than later.