Oct. 29—A lawsuit alleging IU Health Bloomington Hospital’s ambulance service transports few patients to competing Monroe Hospital has rekindled, after languishing in federal court nearly two years.
Lawyers representing Monroe Hospital filed an amended complaint earlier this month after a portion of the initial lawsuit was dismissed. This past week, Indiana University Health attorneys filed a second motion asking for dismissal of the antitrust claim originally filed in January 2016.
The gist of Monroe Hospital’s complaint: that guidelines implemented and followed by the county’s ambulance service—owned and operated by IU Health—greatly restrict the number of patients who end up in the emergency room at the hospital just southwest of Bloomington that opened in 2006.
“This protocol calls for patients to be transferred to the closest appropriate facility or, where medically appropriate, according to the wishes of the patient or the patient’s family or guardian,” the lawsuit says. That’s not what really happens, Monroe Hospital claims in the lawsuit.
The amended complaint filed Oct. 9 alleges that IU Health ambulances deliver 95 percent of their emergency transport patients to IU Health Bloomington Hospital and just 5 percent to Monroe Hospital.
“If not for the anticompetitive conduct of the defendant, Monroe Hospital’s emergency department would have received thousands of additional patient deliveries from IU Health Bloomington Hospital Emergency Medical Transport Services,” the amended lawsuit states.
“Based on past experience, more than 25 percent of these patients would have been admitted as inpatients by Monroe Hospital. As a direct result of the defendant’s past and ongoing violations of the state and federal antitrust laws, Monroe Hospital has been deprived, and will continue to be deprived, of millions of dollars of emergency department and inpatient revenue.”
Lawyers representing IU Health Bloomington Hospital respond that its ambulance service is exempt from state and federal antitrust regulations and liability under “the state action doctrine” and that the lawsuit should be dismissed “because the Indiana antitrust statute does not condemn private conduct activity that is prescribed under state law.”
Jurors may decide the issue. The case, postponed for a year, is now set for trial on Jan. 22, 2019. The court has set aside seven days.
According to the lawsuit, IU Health ambulances went on nearly 45,000 emergency medical runs from April 20, 2013, through May 17, 2016. Of those, just 1,444 took patients to Monroe Hospital’s emergency department. The lawsuit says that 1,300 of the patients taken to IU Health Bloomington Hospital’s emergency room should have been transported to Monroe Hospital because it was closer.
The lawsuit states that patients have told Monroe Hospital employees that they were taken to IU Health Bloomington Hospital after they requested Monroe Hospital.
Monroe Hospital argues that the ambulance service amounts to a monopoly that harms competition between the two hospitals, located just 3.2 miles from one another as the crow flies and 4.5 miles via roads.
The alleged monopoly “has harmed competition by restricting the ability of competitors to compete with IU Hospital and its predecessor on the basis of price, quality or service, to the detriment of consumers,” it says. The lawsuit says IU Health Bloomington Hospital is “explicitly displacing customer choice of providers in the market for emergency medical services.”
Teri deMatas, vice president of marketing and community relations for IU Health, noted that a previous judge dismissed the initial antitrust claims made in the lawsuit. A new judge appointed to oversee the case allowed Monroe Hospital to amend the complaint.
“IU Health believes the allegations of the amended complaint continue to have no merit, and it will defend the lawsuit accordingly,” she said in a statement. “IU Health continues to work with all health care providers in south-central Indiana to ensure the best medical care is received.”
Tom Whitehead, marketing and business development manager at Monroe Hospital, said he cannot comment because the lawsuit is pending.