Atrium Health settles DOJ’s antitrust lawsuit

November 15, 2018

One of the largest nonprofit health care systems in the Untied States on Thursday settled a Justice Department lawsuit alleging it negotiated unlawful contacts that prevented patients from accessing less expensive physicians and hospitals.

Atrium Health, formerly known as Carolinas HealthCare System, settled the lawsuit to resolve nearly two years of litigation over its contracts with health insurers. The Justice Department alleged in the lawsuit tens of thousands of patients were forced to pay more for inpatient hospital care.

The health system has always insisted it has done nothing wrong. When the lawsuit was filed in 2016, Atrium said it did not deviate from accepted health care industry practices for negotiating contracts.

“We believe this case is without merit and look forward to presenting our position in court,“Atrium said in a statement.

But the Justice Department said in legal papers that Atrium used its position as one of the largest health care systems to force customers into footing a larger bill than necessary. The department said Atrium engaged in steering restrictions, an industry term for offering financial incentives to customers for selecting less expensive health care options.

“Competition encourages health care providers to reduce costs, lower prices, and increase quality,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim. “Atrium’s steering restrictions interfered with the competitive process, resulting in fewer choices and higher costs for consumers.”

Under the proposed settlement, Atrium is barred from enforcing steering restrictions in its contracts. A federal judge is expected to approve the settlement on Thursday, the Justice Department said.

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