Bill Deadline in Sacramento Leaves Patients Hanging

With bill deadlines this week, the news coming out of the legislature for patients is mixed.

The hearing for SB 572, that would have eliminated nearly every disciplinary action by the Medical Board for doctors, was postponed. Since this week is the last chance for bills to pass out of policy committees, this scary concept is toast for 2017 unless there’s an ill-advised gut-and-amend later this year.

Unfortunately, that deadline also meant the Senate Business & Professions Committee moved legislation to renew the charter of the Medical Board without fixing some key problems with doctor oversight and enforcement. Right now, SB 798 would eliminate a key reform (called vertical enforcement) that makes investigators and prosecutors work together when they investigate complaints about physicians. The committee also failed to include any requirement that patients who complain to the Board about a doctor’s care are interviewed before their complaint is dismissed, even though doctors get the chance to make their case. And, while the bill would strengthen disclosure in doctors’ offices about how doctors are regulated, it does not require a key disclosure: notice to a patient if his or her doctor is currently on probation.

The jury’s also still out legislation that would stymie law enforcement efforts to stop drug-dealing doctors using the state’s prescription drug database. SB 641 passed out of the Public Safety committee last week with language still intact that would severely restrict peace officers’ access to the database to check doctors’ prescribing records. If the prohibition stays in place, efforts to shut down pill mills and step opioid abuse will falter. It’s families devastated by opioid abuse vs the doctors who sold their loved ones pills for cash as the bill moves forward.

There is still room for both bills to be fixed as they move forward – but lawmakers will have to step to the plate and stand up to the medical lobbyies. (Read my blog last week for more background on each of the bills.)
Speaking of juries: Patients lost the ability to hold negligent doctors accountable for devastating loss – like the death of a child, or the loss of fertility – more than 40 years ago when the legislature capped non-economic damages in malpractice cases. The tradeoff the public was promised – for losing their legal rights – was a strong Medical Board to protect patient safety by holding dangerous doctors accountable. Forty years later the Board continues to fail in that duty. The case has never been stronger for restoring patients’ legal rights so doctors are held accountable for mistakes, and problems are fixed, not swept under the rug.

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