Senator Curren D. Price, Jr. (D-Culver City) has authored legislation that would transfer all investigators and their staff from the Medical Board of California (MBC) to the Department of Justice (DOJ) where they would work in coordination with prosecutors in the Attorney’s General (AG) office.
SB 304, co-authored with Assemblymember Richard Gordon, seeks to streamline the investigation and prosecution of physicians suspected of medical misconduct.
“We are calling for a major reform of the MBC by transferring the MBC’s investigators into the DOJ and specifically into the Health Quality Enforcement Sections whose prosecutors specialize in the handling of physician discipline matters,” Price said.
“I’ve heard repeated stories of long, drawn out investigations of dangerous physicians who are jeopardizing the lives of citizens and I don’t want anybody else to die because of these protracted investigations,” said Price, who chairs the Senate’s Business Professions and Economic Development Committee.
“The investigators will be in the same office, have the same management oversight and work with the same electronic record system as the AG’s prosecutors and be able to fully coordinate their activities from the top to the bottom.”
As the respective Chairs of the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development, and the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committees, Senator Price and Assemblymember Gordon sent a letter to the MBC earlier this month demanding that it address issues of critical importance before its sunset date would be extended.
Enforcement issues with the MBC have been a strong focus of the California Legislature for a number of years. Consumer groups have criticized the MBC for its failure to protect patients from overprescribing doctors. The media has also raised serious questions about the consumer protection performance of the MBC in protecting consumers from dangerous physicians.
The MBC responded to the letter on Thursday stating that it took “seriously” the concerns raised by the legislators in their letter. A meeting between Price and members of the MBC is scheduled for Tuesday, May 7.
“When we meet, we will be looking for assurances that they are taking proactive steps to comply with each of the items of serious concern that we addressed in the letter before we extend their sunset date,” said Senator Price.
Among the issues the letter addressed, were enforcement program shortfalls exposed in a 2012 LA Times investigative report which examined cases where medical doctors continued to practice and prescribe medication to patients when multiple patients of the doctor had died of an overdose of drugs prescribed by the doctors.
The letter also clarified MBC’s authority to initiate complaints against a physician and take a proactive approach to enforcement.
· Requires a report to the MBC of a Medical Malpractice settlement or judgment against a doctor to be sent directly to a formal investigation without first being reviewed by a medical expert as is done in other cases. This can cut up to 2 months off of these types of cases.
· Requires medical facilities that use electronic records to produce those records within 15 days (rather than 30 days) for an investigation when there is a signed authorization from the patient.
· Requires better and quicker exchange of information about expert witness testimony in disciplinary cases. This helps to stop defense lawyers from sandbagging and delaying cases.
· Doubles the timeframe for the MBC to file a formal accusation against a doctor, when that doctor’s license is suspended by a judge. This enables the MBC to more quickly go after a dangerous doctor and get him out of practice, without having to put together the complete case for a formal disciplinary action.
“As health care reform is implemented under the federal Affordable Care Act in California, it is imperative that the MBC take a more proactive approach to its consumer protection mission,” said Senator Price. “The consumers deserve a proactive medical board that places patient protection and interests first ahead of physicians’ interests.”
If these changes aren’t addressed satisfactorily, the MBC will dissolve as of January 1, 2014.