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Antitrust Ruling Could Impact State Regulatory Boards

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, June 21, 2013

A federal court found the action of a NC dental board to restrict discount teeth-whitening procedures was intended to limit competition, and a legal expert says the ruling could affect other oversight boards.

A federal appeals court ruling this month that affirmed antitrust complaints against a state dentistry board in North Carolina could have broader implications for other state regulatory boards monitoring professional activities, including those of physicians and hospitals.  

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit this month rejected the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners' claims that it was exempted from federal antitrust laws under the "state action" doctrine.

The dental board had been the subject of an administrative complaint by the Federal Trade Commission in 2010 for violations of the FTC Act after the board banned non-dentists operating in mall kiosks and other venues from performing discount teeth-whitening procedures. A federal district court rejected the board's initial complaint, and the appeals court this month sided with the FTC and noted that the dental examiners board was composed of dentists who stood to gain financially by restricting the practice.  

"At the end of the day, this case is about a state board run by private actors in the marketplace taking action outside of the procedures mandated by state law to expel a competitor from the market," the appeals court said in its ruling.

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