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U.S. Supreme Court case examines authority of state health care licensure boards and patient safety

Written by Ankin Law Office

Many individuals may find comfort in the knowledge that their doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals are required to pass rigorous testing in order to receive their licenses. These licenses are issued by each profession’s state licensure board. Today, these boards are able to regulate their individual professions to ensure that licensees are acting appropriately and in the best interests of their patients. A medical malpractice attorney in Chicago understands just how important this regulation is to patient safety. However, a new case before the U.S. Supreme Court may strip these health care boards of that ability.

About the case

The case at issue is the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission. The FTC claims that these state licensure boards should be subject to the nation’s antitrust laws. The matter arose after the FTC accused the Board from attempting to exclude non-dentists from having an active place in the teeth-whitening market. The main question is whether a state regulatory board that was created by state law should be considered to be a private actor simply because it is largely comprised of members who are elected from the market that they are regulating.

The Court must now decide whether the Board is a public or private actor when considering federal antitrust liability. It must also decide, if they declare that the Board is a private actor, whether the board is subject to continuing supervision by the state in accordance with current anti-trust laws.

Fear of the potential ramifications

The lower courts have sided with the FTC in naming the dental board a private actor. Healthcare professionals across the nation are expressing concerns about the potential ramifications that may come from a similar decision by the state’s highest court. According to the AMA Wire, the Litigation Center of the AMA and State Medical Societies, the American Osteopathic Association, the American Dental Association and 15 additional health care organizations have come together in filing an amicus brief expressing concern that a ruling upholding the lower court’s decision would have a negative impact on patient safety. Twenty-two state attorneys general and four state bars have also filed amicus briefs expressing their support for the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners, an act not surprising to a medical malpractice attorney in Chicago.

These groups fear that any antitrust liability may keep the state boards from regulating in areas where they may be subject to antitrust litigation that is costly, burdensome and uncertain, including regulating doctors to minimize medical mistakes. They argue that many of the most qualified individuals would be forced to decline their appointments or nominations to these boards due to fear of personal litigation. Moreover, any decisions that the boards did make would be tainted by necessary consideration of federal competition policy, which would come before issues of public health.

Those who been injured by a licensed health care worker’s medical mistakes should contact a medical malpractice attorney in Chicago for assistance.

Categories: Medical Malpractice