Lawmakers seek to strip medical board of investigative powers

by Scott Glover and Lisa Girion, Los Angeles Times

The Medical Board of California would be stripped of its power to investigate physician misconduct under a sweeping reform plan by legislators who say the agency has struggled to hold problem doctors accountable.

The medical board has come under fire for failing to discipline doctors accused of harming patients, particularly those suspected of recklessly prescribing drugs.

Under the legislation, amended Thursday, investigations of doctors would be handled by the California attorney general, leaving the board to deal mostly with licensing doctors.

"I’ve heard repeated stories of difficulty in sanctioning physicians. It’s cumbersome and takes a long period of time," said state Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles), who co-authored the proposal with Assemblyman Richard Gordon (D-Menlo Park). "I don’t want anybody else to die."

The proposed changes come a month after Price and Gordon wrote a letter to board President Dr. Sharon Levine threatening to "dissolve" the board unless it made significant progress in overseeing the state’s 100,000-plus doctors.

The letter cited a Los Angeles Times investigative report that detailed cases in which doctors continued to practice despite having prescribed drugs to multiple patients who fatally overdosed. In some instances, the deaths occurred as the doctor was under investigation by the board and the inquiry dragged on for months or years.

Levine, who was participating in a board hearing in Los Angeles, said she had been anticipating the move but could not comment before the full board discussed the matter Friday.

Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, said Harris was still evaluating the proposal.