Florida health system hit with monopoly lawsuit

Rockledge, Fla.-based Health First is facing a new monopoly lawsuit nearly four years after reaching a settlement with plaintiffs who made similar claims, according to Law360.  

A group of plaintiffs, including those representing a class of patients and health plans using Health First for acute care, filed a putative class-action lawsuit against the integrated health system April 19. The complaint accuses Health First of monopolizing Florida's acute care market in violation of state and federal antitrust laws. 

In August 2016, Health First agreed to settle a case brought by physician competitors who accused the health system of creating an illegal monopoly and pressuring them into referring patients exclusively to Health First hospitals. In the recently filed complaint, plaintiffs allege Health First continued to maintain and strengthen a monopoly in the acute care market after the settlement was reached. 

"Health First achieved these anticompetitive ends through exclusionary acts suppressing and injuring competition, including acquiring the largest competing physician group, Melbourne Internal Medical Associates; leveraging its market power in adjacent markets into the acute care market; pervasive and highly effective exclusive dealing in hospital referrals; and a group boycott of competitors," the complaint states. 

The plaintiffs claim the health system's alleged monopolization forecloses competition from rival hospitals and potential market entrants. They further allege that Health First has caused its competitors to lose profits and forced higher charges on health plans. 

The plaintiffs are seeking damages from Health First and an injunction to stop the system's allegedly exclusionary conduct. 

Health First denies the allegations. 

"Health First is focused on improving the wellness and health of Brevard County residents. We deny and will vigorously defend against these unfounded allegations," the health system said in a statement to Becker's Hospital Review

"What is especially disappointing about this latest lawsuit is the decision to initiate baseless litigation while Health First is continuing the fight to protect Brevard during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the claims in this lawsuit were previously litigated years ago by an individual who is obsessed with suing Health First. At a time when our resources should be focused on saving lives, we find ourselves having to organize a multi-million-dollar defense. This lawsuit will divert resources from saving lives, but it will not distract from our mission to improve the wellness and health of Brevard families."

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