CAMDEN, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - A group of osteopathic doctors are suing the American Osteopathic Association -- the main representative organization for such physicians in the United States -- alleging the requirement that they purchase memberships at a cost of nearly $700 is illegal.
Plaintiffs Albert Talone, Craig Wax, Richard Renza and Roy Stoller, all DOs, filed their class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey Aug. 1.
The plaintiffs seek to recover millions of dollars in annual membership fees that the doctors have been forced to pay for years to the AOA. The money is paid as a condition of obtaining and maintaining physicians’ board certification in any advanced medical specialty.
“The revenues the AOA boards receive from the various fees paid by Plaintiffs and the Class for their board certifications are far in excess of the actual operating expenses attendant to the board certification process,” the doctors wrote in their 22-page complaint.
“Nevertheless, the AOA has notified Plaintiffs and the Class that even though they have already paid these fees and have been qualified and recognized as board certified medical specialists, their board certifications will be invalidated and cancelled unless, in addition, they also purchase annual membership in the AOA.”
The plaintiffs argue the annual membership “serves no purpose” and “has no actual connection” with AOA board certification.
Wayne Mack, one of the Duane Morris LLP attorneys helping to represent the plaintiffs and who is co-head of the firm’s antitrust practice, said antitrust laws prohibit certain “tying” arrangements in which consumers who are interested in purchasing one product are forced to also buy a second.
“In this case, physicians who completed their residencies in osteopathic programs were locked in to obtaining board certification through the AOA,” Mack said in a statement, adding that the AOA had a monopoly on board certification for these osteopathic doctors.
In order to keep their board certifications, the doctors were forced to purchase annual memberships that currently amount to $683 per year for most doctors.
By tying the board certification to the purchase of annual memberships, the AOA generated tens of millions of dollars in assessments across the profession.
“There are considerable costs of doing business as a board certified DO, and doctors routinely pay them,” said fellow Duane Morris attorney James Greenberg, who for 20 years served as general counsel to the New Jersey Association of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons. They include hundreds of dollars of fees charged by the AOA for board certification, including testing fees for certification in such specialties as anesthesiology, dermatology and obstetrics.
“But there is no legitimate reason why a physician should also have to purchase an annual membership in the AOA and pay additional hundreds of dollars a year to the AOA in dues on top of the costs of certification,” Greenberg said in a statement.
The plaintiff class is headed by Talone, a Burlington, N.J., osteopathic physician who is certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians. He represents a proposed class of some 32,000 DOs nationally affected by the AOA membership rule.
Duane Morris attorney Seth Goldberg also is helping represent the plaintiffs.
In a statement last week, the Chicago-headquartered AOA said it had not yet been served, so its ability to comment was limited.
“All AOA policies, including those related to board certification, have been developed by members and are designed to meet the needs of a complex healthcare environment, the growing profession of osteopathic medicine and our physician members,” AOA CEO Adrienne White-Faines said Tuesday. “As the AOA assesses and reviews all policies, this policy is currently under review, including recent discussions at our House of Delegates Annual Business Meeting.”
She added, “AOA board certification services are legally appropriate as a benefit of membership.”
According to the docket, Judge Noel Lawrence Hillman at the federal court’s Camden location has been assigned the case.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.