Missouri practice files antitrust suit against hospital

The charges include intentionally inducing doctors to breach their contracts with the practice.

By Amy Lynn Sorrel — Posted Feb. 20, 2006

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An independent physician specialty group and an acute-care hospital in Sikeston, Mo., are separated by much more than the football field-sized distance between them. Ferguson Medical Group filed a federal antitrust lawsuit in January against Missouri Delta Medical Center.

Ferguson had agreements with Missouri Delta to provide emergency coverage, and the hospital would refer patients without a primary care doctor to the group. The facilities competed to provide basic services, such as laboratory testing and x-ray, court documents state.

But over the past five years, Ferguson started adding outpatient diagnostic and surgical services. The doctors allege Missouri Delta no longer wanted Ferguson to serve as a multispecialty group and viewed its future as a primary care facility only.

Missouri Delta began ending call contracts, discriminating in peer review and credentialing, restricting patient referrals and coercing Ferguson's partners to breach contracts, states the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern Division of Missouri.

The only acute-care hospital in Scott County, Missouri Delta draws from a population of 50,000, many of whom are Medicare and Medicaid patients who cannot travel far for care. If the hospital edges out Ferguson, "[it] would deprive patients of choice, and with that choice comes better quality," said Kevin Blanton, MD, chief of pediatrics at Missouri Delta and a partner at Ferguson.

The hospital's actions have made it difficult for Ferguson to recruit physicians, said Dr. Blanton, the hospital's chief of staff from 2002 to 2004, when the alleged actions began. "The hospital is just offering bigger and better deals and moving doctors from one address to another, not offering more services to patients," he said.

The Missouri State Medical Assn. and the Missouri Hospital Assn. are monitoring the case, but neither has taken a position on it. Missouri Delta President Charles D. Ancell did not return several calls for comment, and no response had been filed with the court at press time.

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