Doctors lose legal battle against MOC recertification requirements

A federal judge has dismissed an antitrust lawsuit brought by four doctors against one maintenance of certification (MOC) program.

The four internists brought the lawsuit against the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) over its MOC program. A judge ruled (PDF) in favor of a motion from the ABIM to dismiss the lawsuit.  

“ABIM is pleased that the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed in its entirety a lawsuit that alleged physicians were harmed by the requirements for maintaining ABIM board certification,” Richard J. Baron, M.D., president and CEO of ABIM, said in a statement.

The ABIM is one of 24 medical specialty boards that are part of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). The MOC process has been controversial among doctors and the specialty boards have faced a backlash over tougher requirements and costs of MOC, which a majority of doctors say are burdensome.

RELATED: Majority of doctors say MOC requirements don't add clinical value, survey finds

The four internists decided to challenge the ABIM’s MOC process in the legal system, filing a class-action antitrust lawsuit last year on behalf of over 100,000 internal medicine physicians.

In his decision, Judge Robert F. Kelly granted ABIM’s motion to dismiss an amended complaint filed by the physicians. The doctors’ lawsuit alleged antitrust violations under the Sherman Act and violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

The doctors have 14 days to file an appeal.

The lawsuit was filed by Gerard Kenney, M.D., a gastroenterologist in Pennsylvania; Alexa Joshua, M.D., a general internist in Michigan; Glen Dela Cruz Manalo, M.D., a gastroenterologist in Washington; and Katherine Murray Leisure, M.D., an infectious disease specialist in Massachusetts. In the lawsuit, the physicians said they had lost job opportunities, employment, hospital privileges or coverage by insurers because they had either decided not to seek ABIM recertification or had failed MOC exams.

In the lawsuit, the doctors allege that the ABIM illegally ties its initial board certification to MOC exams that physicians must pay for to keep their certification and prevents competition.

RELATED: Survey—Vast majority of doctors say MOC is a burden

Given the pushback from physicians, the ABIM announced earlier this year that it will soon have a new option that takes some of the pain out of maintaining their certification. Like several other specialty boards, it will add a longitudinal assessment option for MOC that will allow physicians to take shorter, more frequent tests online.

Specialty boards began requiring MOC exams under pressure from the public that wanted assurance that doctors were staying current with changes in their field. The boards began requiring exams for most doctors to maintain their board certification, often required by hospitals to maintain privileges and by insurance contracts.