Medical Board inaction, MICRA cap combine to leave Californians’ safety in question
Thursday, April 4, 2013
On March 11, 2013, a group of parents presented evidence that the Medical Board of California is not fulfilling its duty to protect patients from medical harm. The parents told a joint committee hearing of the state legislature how doctors willfully overprescribed addictive narcotics to their children, leading in some cases to the drug-related deaths of those children.
Despite the parents’ complaints to the Medical Board, the doctors were allowed to continue practicing and prescribing during lengthy investigations and in many cases even after being sanctioned, with some of the doctors being responsible for multiple deaths. The Medical Board had also failed to use a statewide prescription database that could have helped identify problem doctors for proactive disciplinary action.
The Medical Board’s failure to protect consumers is distressing, because the promise that it would effectively discipline the state’s miscreant doctors was an essential factor in the passage of California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975, or MICRA. That’s the law that limits compensation for Californians who have been harmed by medical negligence, with a cap on jury damage awards that has not changed in 38 years. Parents, like those who testified at this hearing, are limited to $250,000 in compensation for the loss of a child, no matter how egregious the negligence that led to their death.
Sad to say, the recalcitrance of California’s Medical Board to inflict punishment on wrongdoing doctors is not that unusual. A study of the National Practitioner Data Bank by the consumer group Public Citizen in 2007 yielded some startling statistics about inaction nationally:
Only 8.6% of doctors who made two or more malpractice payments were disciplined by their state board.
Only 11.7% percent of doctors who made three or more malpractice payments were disciplined by their state board.
Only 14.8% percent of doctors who made FOUR or more malpractice payments were disciplined by their state board.
Only 33.3% of doctors who made 10 or more malpractice payments were disciplined by their state board – meaning two-thirds of the doctors in this group of the most egregious repeat offenders were not disciplined at all.
By the way, that same study found that it’s a relative handful of doctors – less than 6 percent – who have been responsible for nearly 58% of malpractice payments since 1991.
Public Citizen sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 detailing its concerns with the Medical Board of California.
This report documents the failure of the Medical Board to take any disciplinary action against 710 physicians in California, all of whom were disciplined (had clinical privilege actions against them) by California health care organizations, mainly hospitals, but also by other health care organizations such as health maintenance organizations and ambulatory surgical centers. Of these 710 physicians, the health care organizations’ peer reviewers determined that 102 were an “Immediate Threat to Health or Safety” of patients. The peer reviewers had seriously disciplined almost all of them, yet the Medical Board still took no disciplinary action.
With the Medical Board apparently unwilling to hold physicians fully accountable for their actions, and MICRA making it next to impossible to seek justice let alone fair compensation in court, the safety of Californians remains at best in question and at worst at risk. Even the worst of the worst doctors, meanwhile, skate by with little professional repercussion.
–J.G. Preston and Eric Bailey