A federal court in Philadelphia recently dismissed a complaint that challenged requirements for physicians seeking to maintain certification set by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).

The lawsuit, brought by a group of internal medicine specialty physicians, alleged that ABIM illegally “tied” certification and re-certification in violation of the antitrust laws.  It also alleged that ABIM charged inflated monopoly prices for its maintenance of certification (MOC) program and induced hospitals and other employers to require ABIM certification. The suit was filed as a class action on behalf of all internists and subspecialists required by ABIM to purchase MOC recertification testing.

ABIM defended its certification program and said that “ongoing valid assessment ensures that ABIM certification says something important and meaningful about the doctors who hold the certificate.”

In a Sept. 26 decision, U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Robert F. Kelly said ABIM’s certification and recertification requirements do not constitute any antitrust violation.

“We disagree with plaintiffs and find that ABIM’s initial certification and MOC products are part of a single product and do not occupy distinct markets,” Kelly said. “Not only are we unconvinced by plaintiffs’ arguments, we find that plaintiffs’ entire framing of the ABIM certification to be flawed.”

ASAE General Counsel Jerald Jacobs, partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, said the decision is important for associations that administer certification programs.

“A key statement in the Court’s ruling is this: ‘ABIM has the right to control who it is certifying and what standards and requirements are necessary,’” Jacobs said.