The Utah attorney general's office is among attorney general's offices in nine states that recently forged a "health-care work" group to look at possible antitrust violations in the medical field.

Utah Attorney General Paul Van Dam, newly appointed chairman of the Antitrust Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General, supervises the activities of this group and takes a lead in decision making.A recent survey conducted by the nine offices revealed that authorities in 30 states have investigated or filed at least 70 antitrust cases in the health-care industry since 1985. Other states participating in the group are Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Maryland and Washington.

The Dec. 17 issue of Modern Healthcare magazine said the formation of the group reflects states' growing concern over medical antitrust.

"The group's formation also serves as another warning to providers that their business arrangements must pass muster with state as well as federal investigators," the magazine said.

Of the more than 70 cases investigated, 34 involved allegations of illegal group boycotts or concerted efforts by competitors against a third party. Seventeen cases involved allegations of price fixing and 11 cases involved allegations of anti-competitive mergers, said Ellen Cooper, deputy chief of the antitrust division of the Maryland's attorney general's office.

Other areas that the states will focus their attention in the future are nursing homes, third-party payers, hospital mergers, mergers of large health maintenance organizations and "sham" physician unions, Cooper said.

Three years ago, the Governor's Task Force on Health Care Costs recommended that the attorney general conduct a full investigation of possible anti-competitive activities and violations in Utah's health-care industry. The task force further recommended the office be allocated the money to carry through a thorough probe.

"That was never done for reasons beyond my knowledge," Van Dam said. "But we have been very active in reviewing that report and doing extensive reviews of the health-care industry in the state of Utah and in training people to understand those market dynamics. This has resulted in our present posture in relationship to health care and our current investigations."

Van Dam said Utah is one of several states suing a drug manufacturer for fixing the price of a drug used to treat schizophrenia too high. The complaint filed in New York Federal District Court is again Sandoz Pharmaceuticals Corp., which holds the exclusive right to market clozapine in the United States.

Additionally, the attorney general's office is investigating possible antitrust violations between the state-owned University Hospital and the privately owned Primary Children's Medical Center.

The article in Modern Healthcare provides further evidence that the local investigation is a small piece of a nationwide puzzle.

The national health-care work group expects to release a final report on its research next year.

In addition to the study, the group will act as a clearinghouse for state health-care antitrust activity.