Hundreds of documents in St. Luke’s antitrust trial are closed to public

adutton@idahostatesman.comOctober 18, 2013 

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From left, St. Luke’s attorney Christine Neuhoff, economist Lisa Ahern, and attorneys Scott Stein and Charles Schafer leave court on Friday after the day’s proceedings in the antitrust lawsuit. Saint Alphonsus Health System is suing St. Luke’s over the purchase of Nampa-based Saltzer Medical Group last year.

JOE JASZEWSKI — jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com

Participants in the St. Luke’s antitrust trial are shielding hundreds of documents in the case from public view under laws designed to protect trade-secrets, trial records show.

The documents, marked for “attorneys’ eyes only,” reveal details of St. Luke’s Health System’s purchase of Nampa’s Saltzer Medical Group, compensation packages that St. Luke’s and its main rival proposed for independent doctors and other details that could shed light on financial motivations for the Saltzer purchase, which is at the heart of the case against St. Luke’s.

Summary descriptions of the sealed documents say they cover the prices of St. Luke’s services, internal discussions about relationships between St. Luke’s and independent local medical practices, expansion plans for the Treasure Valley and negotiation strategies with health insurers, among other things.

The U.S. District Court trial is now in its fourth week. Rival Saint Alphonsus Health System, small Boise surgical center Treasure Valley Hospital, the Federal Trade Commission and the Idaho attorney general all say St. Luke’s acquisition of Saltzer has given St. Luke’s too much control over the primary-care market in Nampa. St. Luke’s says the acquisition is an essential piece of its campaign to make local health care more efficient and cost-effective.

This week, attorneys on both sides and outside witnesses gave Judge B. Lynn Winmill lists of emails, meeting minutes, reports and statements they want to keep private. Some lists are more than 25 pages long. The documents include:

  • Financial terms and executive summaries of proposed integrations with several practices, including Boise Orthopedic Clinic, The Women’s Clinic and Intermountain Orthopaedics.
  • Noncompetition agreements doctors signed as part of their employment with St. Luke’s.
  • Internal emails about how Luke’s could achieve its “triple aim” of better care, healthier people and lower costs; its plans to integrate clinics; and its “strategy for competing and adding services in Canyon County and responding to Saint Alphonsus’ plans.”
  • Options for “potential restructure of relationship” between St. Luke’s and Primary Health Medical Group, an independent Treasure Valley group.
  • Demographic data to help St. Luke’s executives plan for the system’s Idaho service areas: the Treasure, Magic and Wood River valleys and McCall.
  • Saint Alphonsus emails that compare its fees with St. Luke’s charges.

Before the trial began, Winmill allowed businesses to hide certain categories of documents from public view and said lawyers for the businesses could decide to empty the courtroom so that only certain attorneys could see or hear sensitive evidence. As a result, the first week of the trial was conducted largely behind closed doors. Transcripts were released days later with extensive redactions.

Several Idaho news groups then filed a motion to pry open the courtroom and evidence. Winmill then ruled that “trade secrets” would stay secret. But attorneys must review, piece by piece, what they had already marked confidential, he said. He said lawyers would have to offer a compelling reason for business secrets to trump the public’s well-established right to know. The newly released summary descriptions were a response to Winmill’s oral order.

After giving the documents a second look, at least one lawyer — Brian Julian for Saltzer Medical Group — decided to lift the veil on several exhibits. It was not immediately clear how the public and press could access those now-unsealed documents.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, @IDS_Audrey

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