Medical Board of California Facing Non-Renewal

The Medical Board of California – responsible for investigating and disciplining physicians – is in danger of being dismantled at the end of the year. The Assembly has until the end of the day, Friday, July 14, to renew it or face the likelihood of expiration and replacement.

What has spurred this unprecedented step was an ongoing debate on how best to reform the license discipline process. At present, the agency is plagued by delays and poor prosecutorial discretion when investigating and choosing to seek discipline. Furthermore, once disciplined, many feel that the agency has not done all it can to protect patients by communicating disciplinary status of its licensed members. 

A number of major reforms have been proposed, primarily by State Senator Jerry Hill. This would include specific restructuring the investigation process and require doctors to disclose their disciplinary status to their patients. However, a number of legislators opposed the reforms. They and the California Medical Association have voiced concerns that the proposed changes to the investigatory process is not practical and the notification process would put some doctors out of business without due process.

Specifically, Hill's proposed legislation would require doctors to disclose violations to patients if the physician is found guilty of a serious criminal offense or accepts criminal probation as part of a plea. Those provisions would apply to about 40 percent of those presently on license probation with the Medical Board of California. Other lawmakers supported a less restrictive plan that would require doctors to disclose their status only after their cases had been fully adjudicated and the Medical Board of California could verify that a violation of its laws occurred. This would apply to only 10 percent of doctors on probation and does not include those who accept probation as part of a settlement without an admission of any wrongdoing. 

The ongoing debate on how to best reform the agency reached a tipping point Tuesday during the Assembly’s Business and Professions Committee hearing. The state Legislature must reauthorize the medical board every four years if the agency is to continue serving as California’s top medical watchdog. And while lawmakers were scheduled to vote on a bill reauthorizing the Medical Board of California, a lack of support for either of the proposed reforms resulted in a stalemate. Fed up, enough lawmakers opted not to cast their votes on the bill, which had been coupled with the reauthorization.

Furthermore, not enough legislators supported proposing solo reauthorization legislation, which now threatens the very existence of the Medical Board of California.