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Antitrust law is a chilling attack on docs -- and a sign of things to come

Antitrust law is a chilling attack on docs -- and a sign of things to come

Wayne Hoffman
July 13, 2010
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July 13, 2010

The future of socialized medicine is already here, and it looks like this: The government is going to insist that doctors treat patients according to the government's terms and conditions. If they protest, argue, complain, fight or plead, they will be pegged as part of a grand conspiracy and silenced. It's happening already.

Recently, the state and federal governments fought a group of Idaho doctors because they decided they would no longer participate in the government's worker's compensation system.

The doctors were upset with the Idaho Industrial Commission's decision in February 2006 to cut reimbursement rates for orthopedic surgeons. Some of the doctors discussed the commission's decision with one another, exchanged emails and, ultimately, according to the government, the orthopedists began announcing they were no longer going to treat workers' compensation patients. Over the next few months, the government contends the doctors continued to email one another, and doctors continued to drop out of the worker's compensation program. By October, according to the government, 65 orthopedists in the Boise area had stopped treating most workers' compensation patients.

In February 2007, the Industrial Commission announced it would raise workers' compensation rates 61 percent, after which the docs began reaccepting workers' compensation clients.

Separately, in December 2007, the doctors took issue with Blue Cross of Idaho's decision to reduce rates. The doctors again began discussing the issue among themselves, and by the summer of 2008, according to court records, about half of the orthopedists in Boise had decided they would no longer be part of the insurance provider's network. To resolve the issue, Blue Cross offered a compromise, a move that divided the medical practitioners and caused many to rejoin the Blue Cross network.

The government deemed both the decision to boycott the treatment of worker's compensation patients and the decision to drop out of the Blue Cross network conspiracies in violation of state and federal antitrust laws. The government says there was a grand conspiracy to fix prices. No, there was not.

In the Blue Cross case, the state has its own set of anti-free market, pro-monopolistic statues which limits competition and gives insurance providers like Blue Cross a competitive advantage. The government, of course, isn't suing itself over the restraint of trade that it enshrined in statute. Instead, the state is using antitrust laws to hammer doctors who refuse to go along with the rates established by an insurance provider that has a state-sanctioned market advantage. If doctors want to drop out of an insurance network, that's their business, not the government's.

And there was no "conspiracy" among doctors to ditch the workers' compensation program. There was a group of doctors who acted independently in exercise of their First Amendment rights to freely associate with other doctors and express their opinions about the government's actions relative to how much they were being paid. The state shouldn't sanction doctors for speaking out or acting out in defiance of a perceived injustice by the government.

The attorney general's office says there is no correlation to this antitrust complaint and the federal government's designs for socialized medicine. I say there is. If doctors are charged with an antitrust conspiracy for dropping from the workers' compensation program, does anyone believe the same won't happen to doctors who refuse to go along with Obamacare and stage a similar protest? Government is out of control, doesn't take kindly to criticism and thinks it is God. You bet it will.

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