BISMARCK, N.D. — The Federal Trade Commission and the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office have made their case for a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court to block a proposed merger of Dakotas-based Sanford Health and Bismarck’s Mid Dakota Clinic.

Regulators filed a federal complaint in June, saying a merger would violate antitrust law. They seek to halt it until a formal FTC hearing scheduled for Nov. 28 is held in Washington.

A four-day hearing on the matter began on Monday in Bismarck and consisted of opening statements and largely closed testimony by FTC witnesses, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

In their opening statement, the FTC said a merger would control the lion’s share of the market for primary care, pediatric, obstetrics, gynecology and general surgery. The agency also argued that the merger would increase the providers’ bargaining leverage with insurance companies, which they said could lead to higher rates, increased premiums and higher co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses.

Sanford and Mid Dakota argued that the “powerful buyer,” Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, would be keeping rates in line.

But Thomas Dillickrath, of the FTC trial council, said BCBS can thwart any attempt to raise prices, which “inflates the powerful buyer definition.”

Sanford’s lawyer Bob Cooper said FTC’s arguments ignore “the market dynamics at play” in the state.

Sanford Health was formed in 2009 when South Dakota-based Sanford merged with North Dakota-based MeritCare. Sanford now bills itself as one of the largest health systems in the nation.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com