Boise judge orders health-care businesses to disclose information, records

A federal judge says some of Idaho's largest health-care businesses must reveal hundreds of documents and witness statements they'd previously kept from view of the press and the public.

The public records will give a general 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."

But they won't reveal 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 a lawsuit over St. Luke's Health System's purchase of Saltzer Medical Group in Nampa — a buyout its competitors, and state and federal law-enforcement agencies, said was illegal.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill presided over the trial last year, concluding 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 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.

Winmill last week issued a 70-page decision saying, "In large part, the Court cannot find compelling reasons to justify maintaining the sealed status for most of the courtroom testimony now under seal." He said there were compelling reasons to lock away some of the documents shown in the trial, though.

Winmill ordered the businesses to release, over the next month, more than 500 items that weren't previously available to the public.

He said about 120 items may be redacted — in a few cases, just names will be removed — and about 250 items can remain sealed.

Because Blue Cross of Idaho was "a very active participant in the trial" and gave information that "was crucial to [Winmill's] decision and to the public's understanding of the case," more of its information will be disclosed, he said.