After listening, for years, to complaints that the Medical Board of California (MBC) has not protected consumers from “dangerous doctors,” state lawmakers threatened to shut the board down next January 1 when it comes up for sunset review.
In a letter to the MBC from state Senator Curren Price and Assemblyman Richard Gordon, both chairs of committees that held joint hearings on the board last month, the agency was ordered to comply with specific directives from the committees about monitoring doctors, implementing reforms and cracking down on errant physicians.
The letter, which its authors said was supported by the other committee members, specifically mentioned stories from the Los Angeles Times that detailed the board’s failure to hold physicians accountable for excessive prescribing of drugs. The Times series cited case after case of doctors being allowed to continue practicing despite overwhelming evidence that multiple patients had already died from overdoses.
The lawmakers also wanted the board to address issues raised by the Orange County Register that doctors were negotiating lesser penalties than those stipulated in its disciplinary guidelines. The Registersummed up complaints about the board thusly: “In the past 10 years, the California Medical Board has reinstated the licenses of doctors who were convicted of sexually assaulting patients, defrauding insurance companies of millions and hiring hit men to kill their wives.”
The lawmakers want better coordination between board investigators and prosecutors, adoption of uniform physician substance abuse standards, adherence to legislation ordering greater oversight of surgical clinics, the filling of 18 vacant enforcement positions, and more effective use of interim suspension orders against “dangerous doctors.”
The board has responded (pdf) to the issues raised by consumers, the media and the committees by defending itself in lengthy reports. A 410-page report (pdf) in November essentially said the board looked forward to telling the lawmakers all about its successes and reviewing with them “the body of law which governs the practice of medicine.”