Warring healthcare giants UPMC and Highmark Inc. today joined forces to ask U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit accusing them of conspiring to stifle competition and raise rates.
"I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with Highmark this afternoon," said attorney Leon F. DeJulius, representing UPMC.
Royal Mile Co. and three other plaintiffs have sought class-action status to represent the clients of the dominant regional insurer and health care system and allege that they used their near-monopoly status to inflate rates.
Attorneys for both UPMC and Highmark argued that case law bars the antitrust claims because the insurance premiums in question were filed with the Pennsylvania Insurance Department.
The Supreme Court has held that when a regulatory body has approved a rate, it can't be used as the basis for antitrust damages.
Attorney Hamish Hume, representing Royal Mile and the other plaintiffs, countered that the department didn't approve specific rates but rather allowed Highmark to charge premiums 15 percent above or below an approved amount.
He said Highmark and UPMC kept competitors out of each others' respective spheres, so an antitrust action is appropriate.
Highmark attorney Margaret Zwisler said UPMC really controlled competition in the local insurance market by deciding with whom it would contract.
Judge Conti invited the parties to submit supplemental briefs before she decides whether to dismiss the case.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 and on Twitter: @richelord.