Pension Bill Passed by Congress Could Block Lawsuit Filed Against Medical Resident Match Program
Language that was "quietly inserted" into a pension bill passed in the Senate last week and in the House the previous week may derail an antitrust lawsuit alleging that the National Resident Matching Program for young doctors "artificially keeps wages low and hours long because hospitals can share salary information and force residents to accept below-market salaries," the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. The language in the legislation, which would be retroactive, would prevent the match system from being used as evidence to support an antitrust claim (Baldor, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/9). Under the match system, developed more than 50 years ago and updated in the 1990s, students visit teaching hospitals to decide at which facility they want to complete their residency. In February of each year, students and hospitals rank their preferences and the lists are sent to the match program, which then assigns medical students to hospitals. Current and former residents in 2002 filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., federal court alleging that the system eliminates competition and encourages sharing salary information and that hospitals illegally collude to restrict opportunities for residents (Smith, Boston Globe, 3/21). In addition, the students say the system denies residents any freedom to negotiate wages and working conditions. Most first-year residents work more than 80 hours a week and are paid about $40,000 a year (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/9). The amendment to the pension bill was added "at the behest" of Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), according to the Washington Post (Crenshaw, Washington Post, 4/13). The amendment contains an exemption for price-fixing claims, and attorneys for the three students who filed the claim and the provision's sponsors are debating whether the bill applies to the lawsuit. Sherman Marek, one of the students' attorneys, said the exemption applies to their lawsuit, adding, "[O]urs is a lawsuit asserting a price-fixing claim." However, Gregg said the legislation "applies to all antitrust lawsuits, including pending and future lawsuits brought against" the match system (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.