Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Against American Osteopathic Association Over Membership Fees


 
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By John George

A group of osteopathic doctors have filed a class-action lawsuit against the American Osteopathic Association seeking to recover millions of dollars in annual membership fees that the doctors allege they have been forced to pay for years to the organization.

The money, according to their complaint, is paid as a condition of obtaining and maintaining physicians’ board certification in any advanced medical specialty. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Camden, N.J., contends the requirement that they purchase memberships is illegal, has no reasonable connection to the advanced certification and violates the antitrust laws.

The osteopathic physicians are being represented by Duane Morris, a law firm that has offices in Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, N.J.

Adrienne White-Faines, CEO of the American Osteopathic Association, said the lawsuit filed against the AOA has not yet been served, so the association's ability to comment is 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," White-Faines said. "As the AOA assesses and reviews all policies, this policy is currently under review. AOA board certification services are legally appropriate as a benefit of membership."

Wayne Mack, co-head of the Duane Morris antitrust practice, said antitrust laws prohibit certain “tying” arrangements in which consumers who are interested in purchasing one product are forced to also purchase a second product. “In this case, physicians who completed their residencies in osteopathic programs were locked in to obtaining board certification through the AOA,” Mack said, adding the AOA had a monopoly on board certification for these osteopathic doctors.

The annual memberships osteopathic physicians were allegedly forced to buy cost $683 per year for most doctors, which generated tens of millions of dollars in assessments for the association.

“There are considerable costs of doing business as a board certified DO,” said James Greenberg, also of Duane Morris, who serve 20 years as general counsel of the New Jersey Association of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons, “and doctors routinely pay them.” Those costs, Greenberg said, 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. “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,” he said “Our doctors should never have had to pay these fees, and we’re suing to recover these fees and to establish that the doctors won’t have to pay them anymore.”

The plaintiff class is headed by Dr. Albert A. Talone, a Burlington, N.J. osteopathic physician who is certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians. He represents about 32,000 osteopathic doctors nationally affected by the AOA membership rule.

 
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