- The Washington Times
Thursday, 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.

Under the settlement, expected to be approved by a federal judge Thursday, there is no admission of wrongdoing or legal violations by Atrium. It will not pay any fines.

Atrium said in a statement Thursday that the dispute was over language in contracts that dated back as far as 2001 and was added to even the playing field for hospitals looking for patients.

“As the healthcare landscape continues to rapidly evolve, Atrium Health’s contracting language has also evolved to reflect current healthcare practices,” the company 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.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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