Carolinas HealthCare asks court to dismiss antitrust lawsuit

Charlotte, N.C.-based Carolinas HealthCare System asked a federal court to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit alleging the hospital system drove up costs in the region by imposing steering restrictions in contracts with commercial health insurers, according to the Charlotte Observer.

The complaint, jointly filed June 9 by the Department of Justice and N.C. Attorney General's Office, alleges Carolinas Healthcare used its market power to require steering restrictions in contracts with every major health insurer in the area: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, UnitedHealthcare, Cigna and Aetna.  

The suit claims the steering provisions prevented insurers from rolling out health plans that encourage patients to use lower-cost providers that offer higher quality services than Carolinas. The lawsuit also claims that some contracts give the hospital system the right to end agreements with insurers if the insurers attempted to steer patients away Carolinas.

In a motion it filed this week, Carolinas says the lawsuit "fails to sufficiently allege actual competitive harm to the marketplace…[and fails to provide] specific facts demonstrating the plausibility of their novel theory of law," according to the report.

Carolinas said the DOJ has not provided proof that the contract provisions led to an increase in insurance premium prices. Lawyers for the hospital also said the lawsuit did not offer any proof that other area hospitals have been marginalized by the contracts, and the contracts don't prohibit or "forbid" insurers from steering to other hospitals, according to the report.

In its motion, Carolinas said the DOJ and state attorney general are "effectively acting on behalf of four insurance companies." Those four insurers control 85 percent of the Charlotte-area market share.

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