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Blue Cross ends suit against radiologists

Blue Cross ends suit against radiologists

MISSOULA - Insurance provider Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana is no longer suing Missoula Radiology.

On Thursday in U.S. District Court, the insurance company filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and enter an agreement which will be supervised by the court until Sept. 1, 2007.

Dr. Daniel Fruechte of Missoula Radiology said he could not comment on details of the settlement but said he and his fellow doctors would continue to provide their same level of services and care for Missoula.

The lawsuit was filed in September 2004 by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana and claimed Missoula Radiology, the only provider of radiology physicians in Missoula, was engaging in anti-competitive measures that were driving up the cost of health care.

The radiologists denied the claim and called the lawsuit a bullying tactic by the insurance company.

The incidents leading up to the lawsuit began in June 2003, when Missoula Radiology physicians left the Blue Cross network of preferred providers after a long dispute over rates that the insurance company had paid for their services.

Since then, Blue Cross alleges, its members have paid $1.3 million more in out-of-pocket costs for the physicians' care.

According to the brief filed by attorneys for Blue Cross, the agreement will benefit the insurance company by ensuring "fair and open competition among Missoula radiologists and any other radiologists who might open practice in Missoula.” Further, the agreement is "sufficient to enable the recruitment of radiologist physicians to Missoula.”

The benefit of the settlement for Missoula Radiology is the group is no longer exposed to damage claims from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana that might result from the lawsuit.

In the settlement, Missoula Radiology agrees to eliminate any potential internal barriers to its own radiologists leaving and setting up an independent practice. In short, Blue Cross is now able to solicit preferred-provider agreements with radiologists in Missoula who do not work for Missoula Radiology.

However, Missoula Radiology is currently the only provider of radiology physicians in Missoula.

Missoula Radiology denies it ever engaged in anti-competitive practices, but has accepted the agreement.

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