PHYSICIAN UNION: Justice Dept. Targets Delaware Doctors
"In a move with implications for physicians ... nationwide," the U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint against a union in Delaware representing "virtually all of that state's orthopedic surgeons," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Delaware, the Justice Department claims that the Federation of Physicians and Dentists "became the hub of a conspiracy to oppose and prevent proposed reductions in payments for orthopedic services by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Delaware." The Justice Department alleges that Delaware orthopedists who joined the union "conspired" to reject the fee decreases and "boycott" Blue Cross as a means to win higher fees. Joel Klein, head of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, said, "The federation organized an illegal boycott designed to insulate doctors' fees from market forces and led the doctors well over the line into anti-competitive conduct." While physicians are free to participate in the ongoing debate about "the role of managed care," Klein said they "must comply with antitrust law that protect consumers."
First Of Many Battles To Come?
The Inquirer notes that the Justice Department's move "comes as hundreds of Philadelphia-area doctors recently joined the union to fight reimbursement cuts by Independence Blue Cross" (see AHL 8/13). Officials for the union contended that the department's action "would not slow their organizing efforts locally and around the country." Jack Seddon, the foundation's executive director, said, "There is always risk involved and we have done everything we could to make sure everybody functions within the restrictions laid on us by the antitrust provisions. All we did was try to facilitate discussions between individual doctors and the company" (Goldstein, 8/14).