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Doctors’ Strike Violates Antitrust Laws

Feb. 4, 2003

Doctors’ Strike Violates Antitrust Laws

Public Citizen Asks Federal Trade Commission, NJ Attorney General to Investigate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The doctors’ strike orchestrated by the Medical Society of New Jersey violates federal and state antitrust laws and should be investigated, Public Citizen said today in letters sent to the Federal Trade Commission and New Jersey Attorney General David Samson.

“Antitrust laws do not countenance individuals or organizations from collectively refusing to serve their clients (here, their patients) in order to gain leverage with the legislature,” Public Citizen said in the letter. “The [Medical Society of New Jersey] has plainly engaged in collective activities the express purpose of which is to cause doctors throughout New Jersey to deny medical services to their patients as a means of pressuring the New Jersey legislature to enact laws that will increase the economic well-being of doctors. It is the unlawful nature of the means, not the legislative ends, that gives rise to the violation of law.”

Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act outlaws unfair methods of competition. The New Jersey doctors’ walk-out is almost identical to a similar action taken more than a decade ago by lawyers who refused to serve indigent clients. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the lawyers had violated antitrust law.

The letters from Public Citizen ask the commission and the attorney general to investigate the conduct of the medical society and make a public announcement that the walk-out violates the law. If the society is found to have broken the law, a court could order it to cease its activity.

To verify the medical society’s involvement, the letters cite documents posted on the society’s Web site in which the society pledges its full support – legal, communications and public relations – to carry out the strike. The letters were signed by Alan Morrison, director of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, and Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. Click here to view the letters.