Montana Blues, radiology group settle suit over contracts

A radiology group sued for alleged antitrust violations after dropping out of Montana's largest provider network has agreed to abstain from exclusive contracts with hospitals in western Montana as part of the lawsuit's settlement.

Missoula Radiology was sued in September by a group of plaintiffs, including the state's largest insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana (BCBSMT). A federal judge is expected to approve the settlement between the parties in a hearing today.

The plaintiffs had alleged that as the only radiology group in the state's second-largest city, Missoula Radiology was illegally maintaining its monopoly through exclusive contracts.

But other physicians decried the lawsuit, saying that BCBSMT was trying to bully the radiologists into accepting its reimbursement rates. A Missoula neurosurgery group and a general surgery group reportedly canceled their contracts with BCBSMT as a protest against the insurer's lawsuit.

Missoula Radiology dropped out of the BCBSMT network in June 2003. It hasn't rejoined the network, and the insurer is now looking at contracting with other providers of radiology services, according to BCBSMT spokeswoman Linda McGillen.

In addition to barring exclusive contracts, the settlement precludes members of Missoula Radiology from weighing in on decisions regarding other radiologists who may seek practice privileges at hospitals in western Montana.

The settlement also requires Missoula Radiology to rescind any internal noncompete agreements that may have applied to its 12 radiologists.

The restrictions on Missoula Radiology will remain in effect until September 1, 2007. BCBSMT and the other plaintiffs will apparently drop their claims against the radiology group in response, with no money changing hands.

Both sides are refraining from substantial comment on the agreement. "We are pleased to have a mutually agreeable settlement," said Missoula Radiology's office manager Shannon Williams.

By Tracie L. Thompson staff writer
March 30, 2005

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Radiology group pays $2.5 million to settle alleged Medicare fraud, June 29, 2004

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