RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A dominant North Carolina hospital system has agreed to halt insurance practices that hindered patients from finding better health care deals, prosecutors said Thursday.
The U.S. Justice Department announced that Atrium Health agreed to a settlement that prohibits the Charlotte-based system from including certain anticompetitive measures in its contracts with health insurers. Prosecutors said the contract restrictions had kept insurers from encouraging patients to find the most cost-effective hospitals and doctors.
The settlement will get rid of “restrictions that curb comparison shopping and interfere with competition,” said Makan Delrahim, an assistant attorney general with the U.S. Justice Department.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, whose office had sued Atrium alongside federal prosecutors, said the settlement will give consumers the ability to find care at a lower cost and to get more transparency about prices.
“We can’t allow Atrium to use its size and market dominance to the detriment of healthcare consumers,” he said in a statement.
The federal antitrust lawsuit filed in 2016 argued that the hospital chain formerly known as Carolinas HealthCare System had used its market power to keep consumers from exploring options that offered better value.
Atrium Health issued a statement Thursday saying it didn’t violate the law and noting the settlement includes no admission of wrongdoing or payment of any fines. Atrium Health said the contract language subject to litigation dates to 2001 and was originally created to ensure that it could compete equally for patients.
“Atrium Health has always been a champion for patient choice,” the not-for-profit company said.
The health care system, described by the Justice Department as the largest in North Carolina and a dominant provider in Charlotte, also has locations in South Carolina and on the North Carolina coast. The flagship of the system’s nine hospitals in Charlotte, Carolinas Medical Center, is the largest in the city, according to the Justice Department.
The settlement will be subject to a public-comment period and must be approved by a federal court.
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