PHYSICIAN LICENSING: Scuttled Fee Increase Threatens Medical Board Activity
An "unusually rancorous" disagreement between the California Medical Board and the California Medical Association has the potential to push the board's finances -- and its ability to protect the public -- to the brink, the Los Angeles Times reports. The board wanted a $90 increase in the state's biennial physician license fee, but the CMA's lobbying efforts scuttled the funding increase in the state Legislature. The medical board says "that without the additional money from the higher fees, it will have to dig into its dwindling reserves and, over the long haul, may see its oversight of the state's 105,000 physicians erode." Ron Joseph, executive director of the medical board, said, "Ultimately, the board could be placed in a position (in which) ... resources dictate that only those violations most injurious to the public are enforced as the relative resources to prosecute all cases shrink." Michael Sidley, a member of the medical board, said, "We are not asking for much money and we are running out of money to do our job."
Although "the medical board's solvency is not immediately threatened," some consumer advocates are concerned. Consumers for Quality Care's Jamie Court said, "I see a tremendous indifference to the needs of consumers who must have a place to turn when a dangerous doctor or a dangerous lawyer is violating state statutes." While the CMA disputes the contention that quality of care may be jeopardized, the medical association is using the opportunity to air some "unresolved concerns" about the medical board's financial accountability and disciplinary policies, according to CMA Associate Director Scott Syphax. "From past experience, the times of financial necessity are times when CMA is able to at last get the attention of the medical board. ... Do we believe it is undo or inappropriate influence? No," he said. But others say CMA's concerns need to be addressed at the state level, not with the medical board. Medical board member Phil Pace said it is "a problem that a regulated body has such power. It's the fox guarding the henhouse." However, the situation may heat up further, the Times notes, as the medical board may agree to support the an increase in the state's malpractice damage awards (Marquis, 8/17). Click here for further coverage of the California Medical Board/CMA conflict.