The AOA has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by four of its members and, after final approval of the settlement, will no longer require that its board-certified physicians maintain membership in the association.
Ironically, the decoupling of membership and board certification was delayed by the ongoing litigation in the case, according to Josh Prober, JD, AOA general counsel. The AOA Board of Trustees voted to decouple in February 2016, before the suit was filed.
“Unfortunately, the timing of this litigation prevented AOA from moving forward with decoupling and halted progress on several initiatives in membership and board certification,” Prober said.
“It’s important to understand that the business practices at issue in the legal case were entirely lawful. Decoupling was a planned strategy to market certification and membership separately and reach broader markets for each.”
A renewed focus on high-value work
AOA has limited board certification to members since it began offering certification in the 1930s. The policy regarding membership and certification has been reviewed—and affirmed—by the House of Delegates approximately every five years since 1979 as part of the House’s sunset review process.
Ultimately, AOA chose to settle the case because the litigation appeared likely to extend for several years, said AOA President William S. Mayo, DO. The legal case prevented AOA from fully implementing strategic initiatives in membership and board certification and severely strained staff resources.
“For two years, the AOA’s human and financial resources have been diverted to defending this lawsuit rather than to refining our organization to meet the needs of a rapidly growing profession,” Dr. Mayo said. “Settling this lawsuit allows us to focus on high-value work that is only done by AOA, like protecting practice rights and providing legal assistance and federal advocacy for DOs.”
Ending the case allows AOA to put the organization’s full focus on members’ priorities, said AOA CEO Adrienne White-Faines, MPA, FACHE. “We appreciated the decision by the Board of Trustees to settle the case because of its prolonged, extensive drain on staff resources. This ends the delay on implementation of key strategies, which will benefit our members and the profession as a whole.”
The plaintiffs’ attorneys, Philadelphia-based Duane Morris, LLP, will receive fees and costs in an amount not to exceed $2,617,000. Monetary awards of $15,000 each were granted only to the four original plaintiffs—Albert Talone, DO, Craig Wax, DO, Richard Renza, DO, and Roy Stoller, DO—and will be paid out of the Duane Morris attorneys’ fees. There is no other monetary settlement.
A $90 reduction of membership dues was part of the settlement agreement. Recently approved by the AOA House of Delegates, the dues reduction applies to regular members for three years starting June 1, 2019. AOA is a physician-led organization in which members set their own dues, which necessitated the vote. The AOA also will suspend board certification maintenance fees of $90 for three years.
Further, the AOA will recognize online continuing medical education (CME) as equivalent to live CME for the purpose of meeting membership requirements and will offer AOA members two free online CME courses for three years, a value of $40 to $150 per year, depending on specialty.
The AOA will also continue its brand awareness campaign for osteopathic physicians through May 31, 2021.