A lawsuit filed by a Bloomington surgeon alleging Indiana University Health engages in anti-competitive behavior in Bloomington may proceed, an appeals court has ruled.
A three-judge panel at the United States Court of Appeals in Chicago on July 8 overturned a lower Indianapolis court ruling that found the case should be dismissed.
Bloomington vascular surgeon Dr. Ricardo Vasquez alleged in the lawsuit, filed in June 2021, that IU Health was “building a monopoly in primary care services through a series of anti-competitive acquisitions.”
“As a result, health care costs for patients and health insurance companies … in Bloomington have gone up, the quality of care has gone down, and some patients cannot receive care because the IU Health monopoly sends these patients at its more expensive sister establishments in Indianapolis. or made the decision not to perform certain procedures at all,” the suit reads.
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Vasquez’s attorney, Katharine O’Connor, a partner at Chicago law firm McDermott Will & Emery, said IU Health’s market power also makes it difficult for her client to get new patients.
Vasquez has a practice in Bloomington, Vascular Center and Vein Clinic on Second Street, and he would normally get most of his patients through referrals from local and regional primary care physicians. However, O’Connor said nearly all primary care physicians in Bloomington and most surrounding counties are affiliated with IU Health, most of whom will no longer refer patients to Vasquez.
The lawsuit alleges that IU Health engaged in this behavior because Vasquez was in competition with IU Health and therefore “threatened IU Health’s monopoly.”
O’Connor said his client would not comment on pending litigation.
IU Health spokeswoman Samantha Kirby declined to specifically address the matter, but released this statement: “IU Health continues to have privileged employed and non-employed physicians at our facilities who provide state-of-the-art care to members of our community.”
The lawsuit also alleges IU Health and Dr. Daniel Handel, chief medical officer for the health system in south-central Indiana, made false statements about Vasquez “to destroy his reputation and practice” and filed “baseless complaints” against the local surgeon to Indiana. Professional Licensing Agency and Indiana Attorney General.
“No agency has determined that it is appropriate to pursue an investigation against Dr. Vasquez based on these complaints,” the lawsuit states.
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The lawsuit also alleges that IU Health violates federal antitrust laws, which protect competition for the benefit of consumers, by ensuring that companies have strong incentives to operate efficiently, keep prices low and maintain quality.
Among other things, Vasquez is asking a court to prevent IUH from enforcing its internal referral policy that prohibits IUH-affiliated primary care physicians from referring patients to vascular surgeons unaffiliated with the health system.
Additionally, Vasquez asked the court to compel IU Health to sell part of its healthcare system to Bloomington to break the monopoly on primary care services.
IUH in court documents said it revoked Vasquez’s privileges at its Bloomington hospital due to his “behavior towards patients, colleagues and staff” and that Vasquez sued “to compel IU Health to reconsider”.
The health system sought to dismiss the antitrust portion of the case in part because Vasquez failed to adequately describe a relevant geographic market, filed the suit too late, and provided contradictory arguments.
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O’Connor said IU Health could ask for the case to be heard by the full appeals court — rather than just a three-judge panel — but if the health system doesn’t or the court refuses such a request, the matter would revert to Indianapolis.
O’Connor also said that IUH tried to dismiss the case early in the proceedings and would expect a trial in a year at the earliest.
Contact Boris Ladwig at [email protected]