Doctors’ Lobby Guts Patient Safety Reforms As New Evidence Reveals Rampant Narcotics Over-Prescribing by Physicians

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Santa Monica, CA – Two major patient safety bills passed a key Assembly committee this morning only after being stripped of key protections after heavy lobbying by the California Medical Association.

A Los Angeles Times investigation this week further exposed the overprescribing epidemic in California, reporting that the pharmaceutical company that makes OxyContin, one of the most abused and overprescribed prescription drugs, maintains a secret database of hundreds of doctors it suspects of reckless prescribing, yet has not reported the majority of them to authorities.

Consumer Watchdog last month joined Bob Pack, who lost his young children to a drug-addicted driver who was overprescribed narcotics, to introduce a ballot measure to enact reasonable patient safety reforms the physicians’ lobby has consistently blocked in the legislature.

“How can doctors oppose mandatory checking of the state’s prescription database when California has an epidemic of overprescribing and overdose deaths? How can doctors oppose improvements in the Medical Board’s enforcement mechanisms when physicians who harm and kill people continue to practice unchecked?” asked Carmen Balber, executive director or Consumer Watchdog. “We are forced to go to voters when the doctors’ lobby consistently stands in the way of even modest patient safety reforms.”

The bills heard in the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection committee today were SB 809 (De Saulnier) and SB 304 (Lieu). SB 809 provides funding for the electronic prescription drug database, CURES. Amendments backed by the doctors’ lobby deleted a provision that would have required physicians to check the database for a patient’s prescription history before prescribing narcotics. The weakened bill passed out of committee on an 11-0 vote.

SB 304, the California Medical Board sunset legislation, was meant to be the vehicle for broad reform of the doctor discipline system in California. Last minute amendments eliminated a key enforcement reform that would have moved all staff investigating dangerous doctors into the Department of Justice. The bill now moves investigative staff to the Department of Consumer Affairs, keeping enforcement staff split and ineffective. The bill was also amended to extend the life of the California Medical Board for four years; it had previously allowed the Board to sunset. SB 304 was on call after a 6-2 vote and was expected to pass.

The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act would require physicians to check the electronic prescription drug database before prescribing narcotics, index for inflation the state’s 38-year-old cap on compensation for victims of medical negligence, mandate random drug testing of doctors and require physicians to report when they have knowledge of peers who abuse alcohol or drugs on duty.

Yesterday, Bob Pack challenged the head of the California Medical Association, Dr. Paul Phinney, to debate the reasonable patient safety reforms in the ballot measure. Phinney and the CMA have called the measure “self-serving,” “window dressing” and a “publicity stunt” and have refused to acknowledge the suffering of families like Pack’s and other victims of medical negligence.  Read the letter from Pack to Phinney:

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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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