New Jersey system's antitrust suit gets green light

A U.S. district judge has rejected West Orange, N.J.-based RWJBarnabas Health's motion to dismiss an antitrust case filed last year by CarePoint Health, which operates three safety-net hospitals that recently transitioned to nonprofit status.

In the Nov. 17 ruling, U.S. District Judge Evelyn Padin said the "complaint contains allegations supporting an inference of antitrust injury" and that CarePoint has "plausibly alleged a conspiracy spanning from RWJ's entry into the relevant market and continuing through more recent conduct and ongoing harm."

CarePoint accuses RWJBarnabas of "numerous" and "deliberate" instances of anticompetitive conduct to take over the market, including entering the Hudson County acute care market by opening a freestanding emergency department with the aid of enhanced reimbursement from Horizon, steering patients and physicians away from CarePoint, and interfering with CarePoint's attempted sale and employees.

The complaint alleges RWJBarnabas conspired with real estate players and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield — New Jersey's largest health insurer — to drive traffic to its competing emergency rooms without required health department approval. It also accuses RWJBarnabas of exerting "undue influence" on the state's health department and governor to prohibit CarePoint from growing community programs, receiving government relief funds and maintaining a stable financial base. 

"This ruling validates CarePoint's argument and strengthens its resolve to ensure fair competition and accessible healthcare services for the communities it serves," Shannon Brennan, a spokesperson for the system, said. "CarePoint remains dedicated to upholding the highest standards of patient care and advocating for a healthcare landscape that fosters equity and integrity."

Despite the court ruling, RWJBarnabas still believes that CarePoint's allegations are "entirely without merit and intends to defend this case vigorously," a spokesperson for the system told Becker's. "Additionally, RWJBarnabas Health will continue to advance its noble mission to serve the residents of Hudson County and is proud of the significant investments made to expand facilities and clinical programs throughout the region."

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