Consumer Watchdog Calls For Independent, All-Public Member Medical Board To End Self-Regulation By Physicians

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Santa Monica, CA – Lawmakers should overhaul the state Medical Board to create an all-public member board, wrote Consumer Watchdog in a letter to lawmakers today, and ensure physician oversight is conducted to protect the public interest, not doctors.

The letter urged Senator Hill and Assembly Member Bonilla, chairs of the Senate and Assembly Business and Professions committees, to end self-regulation by physicians. Hill and Bonilla will chair a hearing this afternoon to examine the issue in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, finding that state licensing boards dominated by the industry they regulate can be held responsible for violating anti-trust laws.

“This is Civics 101: Don’t let an industry regulate itself,” wrote Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog. “There is a simple solution. Reconstitute the Medical Board in the public interest by replacing its physician members with public members. A public-run board, with members who are truly independent of physicians, will eliminate the anti-competitive behavior to ensure the Board protects patients, not doctors.”

The letter continued:

“In 1995 we backed legislation by then-Assembly Member Sheila Kuehl, AB 281, to create a public-majority board, but the bill was killed by the medical lobby. Since then, California's physician-controlled medical board has only become more of a safe harbor for the state's worst physicians. In one high-profile scandal, the Medical Board was exposed as having failed to identify dangerous over-prescribing patterns of practice that placed patients at risk. One such doctor made $1 million per year writing prescriptions that caused or contributed to the overdose deaths of eight of his patients. He kept practicing for years as the Medical Board finally began investigating his case. The investigation dragged on as more patients died, despite clear evidence of his drug dealing.

“Typically, the board acts only on complaints by consumers, and even these investigations are rare. Once an investigation is begun, it takes years to resolve, too long for patients who may be at imminent risk of harm. When prosecuted, an enforcement case can stagnate in five layers of review. A 2011 analysis of the National Practitioner Data Bank by the nonprofit Public Citizen found that 710 California physicians had their privileges restricted in hospital or other settings. The Medical Board had not taken a single disciplinary action against them.

“In conducting oversight and the Medical Board’s sunset review, your committees have uncovered countless other examples of the Board’s tendency to protect doctors at patients’ expense. Under tough scrutiny from the Legislature and media, the Board has been forced to make some incremental changes. Yet forty years of incremental change has not made California patients safer.

“You have the opportunity to end the protection racket and reshape the membership of the Medical Board in the public interest, with an all-public membership free of financial or personal connections to the medical industry. We look forward to working with you on this change and broad reforms to create a new California Medical Board where patient safety is paramount.”

Download the letter here:

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Carmen Balber
Carmen Balber
Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber has been with the organization for nearly two decades. She spent four years directing the group’s Washington, D.C. office where she advocated for key health insurance market reforms that were ultimately enacted into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.

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