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CEO DATELINE – Judge approves settlement in American Osteopathic Association lawsuit

Dec. 5, 2018
By Walt Williams

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A federal judge has approved a settlement in a lawsuit alleging the American Osteopathic Association violated antitrust law by requiring certified osteopathic physicians to be members of the group, the New Jersey Law Journal reported Tuesday.

AOA announced in July it had reached a settlement with four physicians who sued the group in 2017 for requiring they be AOA members and pay dues as a condition of retaining their board certifications. The plaintiffs argued that this “unlawful” tying arrangement gave AOA a competitive advantage over other medical societies and allowed the group to charge more in dues.

The settlement required AOA to end the membership requirement and reduce its annual membership fee from $683 to $593, the news site reported. The association also must waive the annual $90 certification fee for three years, allow members to take two free medical education courses annually for free through 2021, and spend $4 million on a brand-awareness campaign for osteopathic physicians. The cost of the settlement comes to $84.2 million over three years.

U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman of the District of New Jersey granted final approval to the settlement despite objections from attorneys general in five states that it conflicts with guidance issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in Wal-Mart vs Dukes, in which the high court ruled that a small group of women could not being a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all women who worked for the retailer. Among other things, Hillman ruled that the relationship between employee and employer was fundamentally different than that between a membership association and its members, and therefore the guidance did not apply.