Records from St. Luke’s antitrust trial to be revealed

From the Idaho Statesman

Idaho news groups win access to redacted items from the St. Luke’s antitrust trial.

Almost 900: That’s how many witness statements, internal emails, hospital prices and other documents U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill pored over in the past couple of months, sorting out what should be kept secret from what the law requires him to make public. More than 500: That’s how many items Winmill has now ordered to be unsealed by participants in the St. Luke’s health care lawsuit last year. More than 350: That’s how many records he deemed so sensitive that they’ll never see the light of day. The records, to be disclosed within 30 days of last Thursday’s order, will offer a behind-the-scenes look at physician pay, negotiations between Idaho health insurers and Idaho hospitals, the price of medical care at Treasure Valley and Magic Valley hospitals, and internal discussions about bidding wars between hospitals and a “monopoly model.” Winmill declined to order the disclosure of competitive information such as formulas for pinpointing the best location for a Treasure Valley clinic, specific employment offers and salaries, strategy documents or testimony, and records that could harm a doctor’s reputation or reveal personal or medical information. The testimony and documents come from the closely watched lawsuit over St. Luke’s Health System’s purchase of Saltzer Medical Group in Nampa – a buyout that St. Luke’s competitors and state and federal antitrust-enforcement agencies said was illegal. Winmill presided over the trial last year. He concluded that St. Luke’s did break antitrust laws and must undo the deal. St. Luke’s is appealing. But during the trial, Winmill allowed everyone involved in the litigation – plaintiffs Saint Alphonsus Health System and Treasure Valley Hospital, as well as third-party witnesses such as Blue Cross of Idaho – to limit certain documents or testimony to “attorneys’ eyes only,” meaning they weren’t open to the public. Several Idaho news organizations intervened, suing for access to the private courtroom testimony and documents. They included the Idaho Statesman, The Associated Press, the Idaho Press Club, the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa, the Times-News in Twin Falls, the Lewiston Tribune and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. “In large part, the court cannot find compelling reasons to justify maintaining the sealed status for most of the courtroom testimony now under seal,” the judge wrote. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who was among those suing St. Luke’s, said his office is reviewing the 70-page order. “But it appears that quite a bit more information will be made available to the public because of this decision,” he said. “We intend to work with the parties to put the ruling into effect.” Winmill said about 120 items may be redacted. In a few cases, just names will be removed. “We think they will probably show what we’ve known all along about charges and other things,” said Treasure Valley Hospital CEO Nick Genna. “We’re comfortable with it and will welcome more information out there for patients and for patient choices on health care. We’re good with all that.” Blue Cross of Idaho was not a plaintiff but was “a very active participant in the trial” and gave information that “was crucial to the court’s decision and to the public’s understanding of the case,” so more of its information will be disclosed, the judge said. “We fully support his decision,” said Blue Cross of Idaho spokesman Josh Jordan. “We’re still reviewing to know exactly what the implication is to Blue Cross of Idaho. … We’re all in favor with providing information to the public. What we don’t want is for competitors to have access to information that would give unfair advantage, because we don’t have that information about them.” St. Luke’s Health System said it is reviewing the order piece by piece. Saint Alphonsus declined to comment. The Lewiston-based lawyer who represented the news organizations said Winmill did “a conscientious job” in reviewing the records. “This is all that we wanted,” said Brown. “We don’t expect all documents to be open to the public’s view, but we wanted this type of analysis.” From the Idaho Statesman

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