A suit filed Tuesday in federal court in Trenton alleges that an organization that offers physician recertification runs afoul of antitrust law by reducing the supply of doctors.
The suit was filed by the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons (AAPS) of Tuscon, Ariz., which opposes government intervention in health-care.
The plaintiff claims the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) violates the Sherman Act by enlisting hospitals, insurers and medical specialty groups to require doctors to participate in its Maintenance of Certification program.
It further alleges physicians enrich ABMS by paying its fees for courses, exams and review of medical charts to obtain their 10-year recertification.
In addition, ABMS allegedly makes negligent misrepresentations by suggesting that doctors who do not participate have inferior skills, according to the suit, Association of American Physicians & Surgeons v. American Board of Medical Specialties, 13-cv-2609.
AAPS seeks an order that the Chicago-based ABMS stop engaging in a conspiracy to restrain trade and that hospitals, insurers and state medical boards stop relying on the certification program. It also seeks an order that ABMS stop identifying which doctors have and have not been recertified.
The suit cites the experience of J.E., who allegedly lost his 29-year position on the staff of Somerset Medical Center in Somerville in 2011 because he refused to comply with its requirement to recertify under the Maintenance of Certification program.
J.E. is board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine, one of 24 organizations that have aligned with ABMS to implement the recertification program.
The suit says that ABMS acted in concert with the Joint Commission, formerly the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations — which accredits more than 20,000 health-care organizations and hospitals, including Somerset — to require recertification as a condition for medical staff privileges.
In addition, ABMS works to induce insurers to use its certification to assess physician credentials, according to the suit.
ABMS’s imposition of its recertification requirements is contrary to public policy because it is a private organization lacking in accountability and transparency, the suit says.
The ABMS courses cost thousands of dollars, revenue that is shared with the 24 affiliated practice organizations like the American Board of Family Medicine, says AAPS’s attorney, Far Hills solo Andrew Schlafly.
Physicians also must pay for travel to other states to complete coursework and devote more than 100 hours to the program, says Schlafly. And the roughly 20 percent of doctors who flunk out of the ABMS program are required to start over from the beginning, he says.
"There is no evidence that defendant’s ABMS Maintenance of Certification program advances any legitimate goal for patient care. The primary purpose of the implementation of ABMS Maintenance of Certification is to enrich the executives at ABMS and at the corporations with which ABMS has the foregoing agreements," the suit says.
The existing system for regulating physicians, in which state boards determine fitness to practice, works well, says Schlafly. States typically require doctors to take 50 hours a year of continuing medical education, and they are subject to peer review at hospitals and the threat of malpractice suits, he says.
ABMS, in a statement relayed by spokeswoman Karen Metropulos, said, "we strongly dispute the claims made by AAPS. We stand by ABMS MOC as an important voluntary program of lifelong learning, self-assessment and quality improvement that offers value to both physicians and their patients."
The Joint Commission did not return a call late Thursday.
Somerset Medical Center did not have an immediate comment.