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News & Press: Advocacy

ABCS Questions Medical Board of California's Decision to Deny Their Right to Commercial Free Speech

Wednesday, December 19, 2018  
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With their decision, the Medical Board of California is perpetuating anti-competitive law that has the potential to negatively impact patient safety and care. AACS will continue to work with ABCS to restore the right of trained surgeons to advertise their training and board certification.

On December 18, 2018, the Medical Board of California (MBC) denied the rights of exceptionally trained surgeons to advertise their training and board certification after they demonstrated that they meet every criteria required to state their board certification.

"The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS) is the only certifying board dedicated exclusively to the specialty of cosmetic surgery," stated Peter Canalia, Esq. Executive Director, ABCS. "We are disappointed in their decision to support and uphold legislation that limits patient choice. This is a clear violation of commercial free speech and antitrust and anti-competitive laws."

With demand for elective cosmetic medical procedures increasing each year, the need for highly qualified, specialty trained cosmetic surgeons is critical. This is especially true given cosmetic surgery has attracted under-qualified doctors wishing to capitalize on consumer demand and profit from offering cosmetic procedures, despite minimal training in cosmetic medicine.

Many states have implemented Healthcare Truth in Advertising Laws that require doctors to clearly state their level of training and credentials in patient-facing communications. Such laws would seem to be particularly helpful for cosmetic surgery patients, who are more vulnerable to fall into the hands of an unqualified doctor.

However, a few states have adopted language in their Truth in Advertising legislation that allows for a growing monopoly by one physician certifying body, placing states at risk of regulatory capture and allowing for the control of physician costs and education at the hands of one organization. This not only stifles innovation in medicine but also puts patient safety at risk. California is one such state.

In 2017, California updated its legislation that closed pathways for ABMS competing boards to advertise their board certification. Beginning January 1, 2019, no other physician certifying organizations will be permitted to advertise, thus allowing only ABMS physicians to state their board certification. The ABMS is a disproportionately powerful private physician organization—it is not a government safety organization obligated to serve the public's best interest, but rather a privately-run organization that drives this type of legislation with their own interests in mind.

To better ensure patient safety and care, the ABCS chose to combat this discriminatory legislation and protect its diplomates' right to commercial free speech by petitioning the Medical Board of California for equivalency. Essentially, equivalency demonstrates that while the ABCS is not part of the ABMS, their standards for physician training and examination are equal to or exceed that of the Medical Board of California's criteria to meet the advertising rules requirements.

Despite the fact that the ABCS exceeded the Medical Board of California's set criteria for advertising physician board certification, the MBC chose to maintain bias and deny the petition. The denial of equivalency for board certified cosmetic surgeons in California was based on the MBC reviewer's inaccurate interpretation and conclusions regarding the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery's (AACS) fellowship program. AACS made multiple attempts to invite him to meet with any fellowship program director or fellow of his choice at any program. No invite was ever responded to, and many remarks within the reviewer report mirrored remarks of ABCS competitors.

"The decision to deny the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery its right to commercial free speech in California places a true danger by limiting a patient's ability to choose more qualified physicians for their cosmetic surgical needs," stated Peter Canalia, Esq. "In addition, it further perpetuates the monopoly and python grip of one physician certifying organization, the ABMS."

How This Decision Impacts Public Health & Safety

Cosmetic surgery is an ever-changing and fast-growing specialty for which there is no ACGME residency in existence. The certification by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery and the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery fellowships ensure crucial patient safety and care needs by meeting the critical demand for stringent cosmetic surgery training and continued oversight. By limiting the public's understanding of who is a safe choice, Truth in Advertising legislation serves only to perpetuate the monopoly of one organization, restrict competition, and, in doing so, create barriers for patients seeking care from safe, experienced surgeons.

The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery will continue fighting for cosmetic surgery board certification as a hallmark of specialty training, as well as to give physicians entering the field the right to pursue the most focused training in the specialty and thus better serve the public.

About the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery

The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS) is the only board dedicated exclusively to excellence in the medical specialty of cosmetic surgery. For more than 30 years, the ABCS has demonstrated the highest standards of training, knowledge, and expertise in cosmetic surgery, in addition to promoting safe and ethical practice. You can find more information about the ABCS online at www.americanboardcosmeticsurgery.org.