- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A Boise-area hospital and Idaho’s largest independent physicians’ practice are seeking to reverse a federal judge’s ruling that their joining forces violated federal antitrust laws.

St. Luke’s Health System and Nampa-based Saltzer Medical Group on Tuesday filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Boise to stay the court ruling pending an appeal.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled in January that the year-old acquisition by St. Luke’s of Saltzer needed to be unwound because it’s likely the buyout would raise health care costs by giving the hospital a dominant market position.

The motion St. Luke’s and Saltzer filed Tuesday asks that the acquisition remain in place while an appeal of Winmill’s decision works its way through the courts.

“Our request for a stay pending appeal recognizes, as the court has, that this case presents issues of both exceptional importance and substantial difficulty,” said Dr. John Kaiser, president of Saltzer Medical Group, in a statement. “All of us involved in this matter have appreciated the candid input and sage counsel we have received and we’re confident this is the right path forward for us and for the patients we serve.”

Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, the Federal Trade Commission, and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the acquisition. They argued the buyout was an illegal market grab giving St. Luke’s an unfair advantage.

“We intend to defend the appeal with the same vigor we showed during the trial phase of the case,” Wasden told the Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/1l1RJ7V).

St. Luke’s said its acquisition of Saltzer would improve patient care.

“We will stand by our commitment to Saltzer Medical Group and the residents of Canyon County until we are able to have a positive resolution to this matter,” said Dr. David C. Pate, president and CEO of St. Luke’s Health System, in a statement. “Either by prevailing on appeal or identifying an alternative that allows Saltzer to remain healthy and continue to serve patients and the community in a positive way.”

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 around 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.