Groups want to see state medical board undergo overhaul

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comMarch 12, 2013 

Consumer groups and families of patients who have died as a result of prescription overdose tried to make their case Monday at the state's Capitol as to why the Medical Board of California should undergo a major overhaul.

Several activists testified before two legislative committees on issues they think need to be addressed, including more accountability and responsibility from the board to protect patients from doctors.

"Our message was that it needs drastic reform or it should not be renewed," said Carmen Balber of Consumer Watchdog.

The Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development jointly with the Assembly Committee on Business, Professions and Consumer Protection had hearings on six boards within the state's Department of Consumer Affairs, including the Medical Board of California.

The medical board regulates and disciplines doctors.

The hearing was part of what is known as the "Sunset Review," which determines whether the entities should continue to operate or if policy changes are needed.

Balber said that for the past few decades the board has refused to take "dangerous doctors out of practice."

"They are causing overdose deaths and the medical board hasn't done anything to stop them," she said.

Silvia Diego, chief medical officer at the Golden Valley Health Centers, is on the medical board. She was reappointed to that seat by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Diego declined to comment Monday and referred questions to the board's office.

Lisa McGiffert of Consumers Union said her group is hopeful there could be change as a result of this process.

"Our hope is that through the Sunset Review, that these legislative committees can make the board more responsible to the consumers who have complaints ... as well as improving information about the doctors they oversee and provide public information," she said.

Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, said lawmakers heard the concerns from advocates and others, stressing that legislators want to make sure the board is fulfilling its obligation to consumers.

"We are going to take immediate action to ensure that steps are taken to address the very significant challenges and problems facing the Medical Board of California," said Price, who heads the Senate committee.

The board submitted a report to the legislative committees explaining what it has done since its last review, according to Jennifer Simoes, spokeswoman with the medical board.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen, a watchdog group that ranks medical boards annually, said some doctors in California are not adequately disciplined by the board.

In the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit's 2012 ranking of medical boards, California was No. 28 for its rate of serious disciplinary actions from 2009-11.

"California's is not one of the best medical boards," Wolfe said in a previous interview.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482, or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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