Radiologist sues state over health care regulations

Posted: Sunday, May 27, 2007

FAIRBANKS - An Alaska radiologist is suing the state Department of Health and Social Services, arguing that the program regulating health care facilities violates some physicians' rights under the Alaska Constitution.

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Dr. Robert Bridges and his attorneys also are asking for an injunction that would order Karleen Jackson, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, to "cease discriminating" against radiologists.

The suit, filed May 10 in Juneau Superior Court, is the latest development in the ongoing battle between some physicians and the certificate of need program.

Bridges works for Alaska Open Imaging, which in February was ordered to shut its Fairbanks office as a result of a lawsuit filed by Banner Health Systems, which runs Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

Jackson had twice affirmed her decision that the diagnostic imaging facility did not need state approval, or a certificate of need, to operate. The hospital argued that state regulations do require approval of such facilities in order to create a level playing field for health care services.

In August 2006, Superior Court Judge Niesje Steinkruger agreed with the hospital that diagnostic imaging facilities are included under certificate of need regulations. Jackson offered the center a chance to apply for a certificate of need, but the center decided against it, instead choosing to appeal Steinkruger's ruling. The ruling held. In February the business was forced to stop offering diagnostic services.

The office has remained open so that patients can have access to their records and to assist patients if they choose to travel to one of Alaska Open Imaging's offices in Wasilla, Anchorage or Soldotna.

Bridges, the radiologist for the Fairbanks center, took over the facility in February and asked Jackson to determine if a certificate of need was necessary since the new business, Aurora Diagnostic Imaging, was now physician-owned. Jackson said Bridges' venture would require a certificate of need because Bridges did not meet one of the four criteria, set by Jackson, to meet the physicians' offices exemption from the certificate requirement.

Jackson said Bridges' office did not meet the criteria that "Imaging services will not be provided to other physicians or entities."

That determination irks Bridges, who said Jackson's criteria should not be universally applied to all types of physicians, especially radiologists.

Bridges said radiologists are known as "the physician's physician," an expert who works with a primary care physician to test and diagnose patients. Radiologists are board-certified medical doctors and licensed by the state medical board.

But radiologists do not self-refer patients to their own services, Bridges said. They provide services to patients with a primary care physician. That's why Bridges said Jackson's criteria should not apply to radiologists.

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