Law360 (March 14, 2019, 7:59 PM EDT) — The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on Thursday urged an Alabama federal judge to let it join the multidistrict litigation against the Blue Cross Blue Shield network and let other “Blues” contract with UPMC in place of its rival, Highmark Health.
UPMC had sought to contract directly with other, non-Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers after Highmark, a Pittsburgh-based Blue Cross affiliate, purchased a struggling local hospital chain and set itself up as an integrated hospital network directly competing with UPMC. But UPMC said it was rebuffed by the other insurers in part because the Blues allegedly had agreements that kept them from coming in and competing in Highmark’s exclusive 29-county territory.
In a brief filed Thursday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, UPMC argued that the Blues’ geographic restrictions on where they could operate was an illegal market allocation and a per se violation of the Sherman Act, so UPMC should be able to seek an injunction letting it contract with other, non-Highmark Blues.
“The court held that the Blues’ adoption of exclusive service areas, together with other restraints whose existence is undisputed, ‘constitute a per se violation of the Sherman Act,’” the brief says. “When UPMC has sought out contracts with the non-Highmark Blues, the reply has always been consistent with the BCBSA’s response that ‘the license agreements and related rules provide that plans may generally only contract on a Blue basis with providers in their respective service areas’ — the precise restriction the court has held the providers may challenge on a per se basis.”