Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
After researching, investigating, and writing about the activities and finances of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) and the ABIM Foundation for the past five years, it would figure that a ruling on the class-action lawsuit challenging the ABIM Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program would occur during the week that I am on call. I simply have not had much time to put my thoughts in writing.
Perhaps that's a good thing.
But as the time has passed since the ruling, I believe I have more clarity now.
Initially, I must say I was surprised by Judge Kelly's ruling, but not shocked. We have encountered significant naiveté with non-physician legislators when attempting to pass anti-MOC legislation at the state legislative level. Most non-physicians do not have a clue what ABIM Board Certification and MOC are, let alone their history and current relationship to obtaining and maintaining physician hospital credentials and insurance payments.
I suspect the judge in the ABIM antitrust case was (and remains) similarly naive. (Just as I am naive about what it takes to be a lawyer or judge.) Perhaps nowhere is this naiveté more evident than the judge's paragraph concerning "grandfathering" of older physicians:
"Finally, Plaintiffs allege that ABIM does not consider MOC to be a requirement of initial certification because it has “grandfathered” those that purchased a lifetime certification prior to 1990. (Pls.’ Mem. Law in Opp’n Mot. to Dismiss 13.) However, Plaintiffs provide no support as to why ABIM should not be allowed to modify its certification process over time. We see no problem that at some point ABIM realized there was a need to have its certified internists undergo an MOC program, whether because the internists could not keep up with the advances in their particular field, saw their skills diminish, or any other reason. In fact, the need to require a MOC program is highlighted in this case, as Murray initially failed her infectious disease MOC program in 2009 and Joshua was unable to pass her required MOC program in 2014. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 85, 109.)"But the judge's logic falls apart here because he mentions only the plaintiffs' need to "keep up," and not the "grandfathers'" similar "need." Aren't older, grandfathered physicians who do not have to participate in MOC more likely to have "failed to keep up with the advances in their field or seen their skills diminish?" Why are they granted an ABIM board certification "hall pass" while the younger Plaintiffs in this case were not? Why is such an age- and gender-discriminatory double standard acceptable for board certification in the judges eyes? (Remember, younger physicians who must perform MOC are increasingly comprised of females and physicians of color.)
Would the judge feel similarly if he had to retake his bar examination and pay monopolistic fees to the Bar Association every 2-10 years to maintain his appointment to the bench?
Concerning the unjust enrichment dismissal, the judge makes a similar blunder and fails to even consider the Plaintiffs' concerns:
"Our analysis is again constrained by Plaintiffs’ misunderstanding of the product they purchased. Clearly, the first two elements of unjust enrichment are met for Plaintiffs that purchased MOC. However, the third element is not met because it is not inequitable for ABIM to keep the benefit since it did not “force” Plaintiffs to purchase MOC.(emphasis mine) Plaintiffs were, of course, free to decide to no longer be certified by ABIM and to, therefore, not purchase MOC."The Plaintiffs in this case were free to decide that they did not need to purchase MOC just as they are free to decide to stop breathing. How long could the Plaintiff internists earn a living and work as internists if they cannot hold hospital privileges or receive insurance payments unless they purchase MOC?
This judges' entire ruling in favor of ABIM seems thin to me.
I look forward to seeing where the next chapter of this ongoing legal battle takes us in the weeks and months ahead.
It is important to realize this case is far from over as the legal battle against MOC continues. Please help the Plaintiffs' efforts to end MOC by contributing here.