Capitol Alert

California doctors fight bill requiring disclosure of probation

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, during session in the Senate chamber on Monday, March 11, 2013.
Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, during session in the Senate chamber on Monday, March 11, 2013. hamezcua@sacbee.com

California would become the first state in the country to require doctors on probationary licenses to notify patients about their status under a legislative proposal opposed by the physicians' lobby.

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said the California Medical Association killed his bill on patient disclosure two years in a row. Now the measure is back in the state Senate and once again targeted by the association.

"Currently doctors have to notify their insurer, their hospital or clinic about their probation status, but patients receive no notice," Hill said. "They are left in the dark and susceptible to future abuse."

The Medical Board of California currently offers a search function for information about a physician’s license, disciplinary status, complaints the board found evidence to support and links to documents related to any sanctions.

SB 1448 would offer a new level of transparency at the doctor's office and require physicians to ask patients to sign a form that discloses the length and end date of their probation, any restrictions placed on their ability to practice, contact information for their licensing board and information on how to access additional details about the disciplinary action.

The bill applies to physicians, surgeons and practitioners licensed by the Medical Board of California, California Podiatric Medicine, Osteopathic Medical Board of California, Naturopathic Medicine Committee, Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the California Acupuncture Board.

Doctors accused of wrongdoing, such as overprescribing addictive prescriptions or fondling patients, can agree to settlements with the medical board and accept probation. The probation period often comes with other requirements, ranging from counseling to ethics courses depending on the offense, and restrictions on their ability to practice.

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Theodore M. Mazer, president of the medical association, in a statement called SB 1448 “another unfortunate attempt by Senator Hill to score political points and collect headlines through unscrupulous attacks on the medical profession."

The medical association, which represents 41,000 doctors in the state, argues in an opposition letter that the proposed law would cause patients to seek another provider without asking for additional information or result in a conversation between the doctor and patient that will "inevitably expand into time in which patient care can be provided."

The association said the notice will discourage doctors from settling claims and lead to more hearings, which would slow the disciplinary process and potentially allow doctors to continue practicing as their cases move forward.

Hill questions why the association is making a case against the possibility of more hearings while it sponsors separate legislation, Assembly Bill 505, to bar the Medical Board of California from entering into any settlements resulting in probation for certain accusations.

Hill's bill failed in the Assembly last year after he refused to accept amendments that he said would have changed the outcome of the bill. It faltered in the Senate in 2016.

This time, Hill has help from several high-profile athletes, including 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber who spoke in support of the legislation at a press conference earlier this month. Wieber, one of more than 250 women who accused incarcerated doctor Larry Nassar of abuse, called for more disclosure to prevent doctors from betraying patient trust.

The bill passed its first committee hurdle on Monday and must clear the Senate Appropriations Committee by May 25.

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