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Doctors’ lawsuit against Presbyterian dismissed

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

A lawsuit against Presbyterian Healthcare Services by a group of local cancer doctors, led by the former president of the American Medical Association, alleging Presbyterian used its clout to retaliate against them after they opened an oncology clinic has been dismissed by U.S. District Judge Martha Vázquez after she found no violations of federal antitrust laws.

New Mexico Oncology and Hematology Consultants Ltd., founded in 1987 by Drs. Barbara McAneny and Clark Haskins, filed the lawsuit in 2012 after a long relationship between Presbyterian and the company soured.

The company claimed Presbyterian retaliated against the local doctors group after it built the New Mexico Cancer Center in Albuquerque.

But Vázquez ruled last month that “There is no evidence in the record that Defendants (Presbyterian Healthcare Services) engaged in anti-competitive conduct within the meaning of … the Sherman Act. Accordingly, as a matter of law, Plaintiff (New Mexico Oncology and Hematology Consultants Ltd.) cannot establish an essential element of its monopolization and attempted monopolization claims.”

Based on that finding and appellate court precedent, Vázquez decided the case would not proceed on any claims made under state law.

Vázquez threw out portions of the cancer center’s antitrust lawsuit in 2014 but allowed most of it to proceed.

New Mexico Oncology and Hematology Consultants claimed Presbyterian pressured patients to change doctors to its in-house physicians, discouraged patients from seeking care at the New Mexico Cancer Center and committed other actions designed to put the center out of business.

Presbyterian, which created its own oncology unit and partnered with M.D. Anderson after the New Mexico Cancer Center was built, denied those claims.

The lawsuit didn’t seek a specific dollar amount. Instead, the doctors group wanted three times the amount of lost profits proven at trial.

In the most recent ruling, Vázquez found that after the local doctors built their own cancer center, Presbyterian was entitled to reduce external referrals to the New Mexico Cancer Center so long as its retention efforts were based on valid business reasons.

The judge concluded that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act does not force a company (Presbyterian) to assist a competitor at eating away at its own customer base, especially if the competitor is offering nothing in return.

For years, the case was mired in the discovery process, with fights over what documents Presbyterian would have to turn over to the cancer center’s attorneys before trial and what witnesses would be allowed to testify.

Presbyterian’s for-profit health insurance company insures hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans, and the not-for-profit hospital and health care delivery system is the state’s largest.

The New Mexico Cancer Center has established several satellite offices around the state and was headed by McAneny, who served as president of the AMA from 2018 to 2019. She also has held many leadership roles in the local and national medical community, including president of the New Mexico Medical Society, president of the Greater Albuquerque Medical Association and president of the New Mexico Chapter of the American College of Physicians.

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