St. Luke’s asks appeals court to reconsider antitrust ruling

Idaho’s largest hospital system wants another shot at arguing its points in a multimillion-dollar federal antitrust case that could shape the future of health-care mergers in the U.S.

St. Luke’s Health System in February lost a first-round appeal to the 9th Circuit, where a panel of three appeals-court judges upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill.

Winmill ruled in January 2014 that St. Luke’s broke federal antitrust laws by taking over Saltzer Medical Group’s private practice in Nampa. Federal, state and private parties sued St. Luke’s over that purchase, arguing that it gave St. Luke’s too much power over the area’s primary-care market. Winmill agreed, and the 9th Circuit panel decided he wasn’t wrong in his ruling.

Now, the health system wants some or all of the 9th Circuit’s judges to rehear its case.

St. Luke’s said in its request, filed Thursday, that the 9th Circuit panel in February failed to consider how the merger could benefit health care; that it “misapprehended” how Winmill arrived at his conclusions; and that it should have considered the “market” for health care to extend beyond Nampa.

“This case has important implications for the people of Idaho and for health-care reform across America,” St. Luke’s said in its request for a rehearing. “The national movement toward integrated care depends in large part on affiliations like this one between a health system and an independent physician group.”

There’s very little chance, statistically, for St. Luke’s to prevail at this point. The 9th Circuit received 785 petitions for full-court reviews in 2014. Only 17 of those, or 2 percent, were heard.

St. Luke’s could also try to take its case to the Supreme Court, but that court takes up less than 1 percent of the 10,000 requests it receives each year.