Saltzer doctor: Deal with St. Luke’s not about control

A physician’s now public testimony offers a different account of the merger.

adutton@idahostatesman.comOctober 5, 2013 

St. Luke's Medical Center downtown, hospital

St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Downtown Boise. On Monday, the health system will start presenting its side of the case in the antitrust lawsuit.

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

The woman who runs Idaho’s largest independent physicians network said in U.S. District Court that a Nampa doctor told her his business, Saltzer Medical Group, would likely sell itself to St. Luke’s Health System because it could not compete against St. Luke’s money and resources.

But that doctor, Randell Page, contradicted that witness Friday in an emailed statement to the Idaho Statesman.

“At no time did we feel threatened by St. Luke’s,” Page said in the statement. “At no time did they ever imply that if we did not merge with them, we would be disadvantaged by competing with them. In fact, it was made clear to us on many occasions that, if no merger occurred, they would still want to work with us in whatever ways could be beneficial. I am proud to be associated with St Luke’s and have never felt intimidated by them.”

Saltzer’s sale to St. Luke’s closed last year. Saint Alphonsus Health System, Treasure Valley Hospital, the Federal Trade Commission and the Idaho Attorney General are now suing over the deal’s alleged antitrust violations. Linda Duer, executive director of the Idaho Physicians Network, recounted a conversation with Page about the sale as part of the plaintiffs’ case in the trial.

Page cited a different reason during his videotaped trial testimony, which has since been released.

“I believe that St. Luke’s is the pre-eminent provider in this community,” Page, a Saltzer physician since 1989, said in his deposition. “I also believe that they are the right partner to have in terms of [insurance] contracting because of where they are trying to go, where they are trying to take the provision of health care in this community.”

Much of the courtroom proceedings in the trial, which began Sept. 23, have been closed to the public and the press, including the videotaped testimony from Page and from Duer. Redacted transcripts are later submitted to a federal court database for the public to access.

The lawsuit hinges on whether the St. Luke’s buyout of Saltzer would reduce competition for primary care in the area. Judge B. Lynn Winmill is expected to consider whether the buyout gives St. Luke’s too much power over other businesses.

St. Luke’s will begin presenting its defense to Winmill in court Monday.

“I believe that St. Luke’s has an excellent reputation in this community and that a large number of patients would see them as their pre-eminent provider,” Page testified.

An attorney for a St. Luke’s opponent then showed Page some letters or emails Page wrote while he and other Saltzer owners were debating whether to sell to St. Luke’s. In those documents, Page called St. Luke’s the “dominant provider” in the Treasure Valley and said the system was “offering a wonderful opportunity to control and co-develop services in Canyon County.”

Page said the wording was not meant to imply that St. Luke’s dominated or was offering control over the marketplace for medical services in the area.

“I didn’t choose the word anticipating that two years later, I would be sitting in this room being questioned about why I chose the word ‘dominant’ versus ‘pre-eminent’ or ‘preferred,’” he told the attorney.

As for control, the buyout “has never been about control. It’s been about the opportunity to participate in the development of services, to have a say, to have Saltzer’s goals and Saltzer’s wishes represented,” Page said.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey

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