By Jonathan Padua
On February 3, 2021, the Senate Rules Committee held a hearing to confirm the Governor’s appointments of three members to the Medical Board of California (MBC), Dev GnanaDev, Asif Mahmood, and Richard Thorp, all practicing physicians. After a brief introduction by all three Board members, Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins called for comments from other committee members, who proceeded to pose significant questions with respect to a potential conflict between the Board’s obligation to ensure consumer safety and the interests of the licensed physicians the Board regulates.
Of note, Senator Patricia Bates posed questions about the disciplinary actions taken against physicians who have been accused of overprescribing opioids to patients and the inefficiency of the current Death Certificate Project undertaken by the Board. Senator Bob Hertzberg voiced concern regarding the average length of 900 days between a filed complaint and the Board’s adjudicative decision in response to the complaint and the disproportionate amount of Latino and African American physicians receiving complaints filed against them.
Senator Scott Wilk asked the Board for possible ways to allow for real-time status updates when a complaint is filed and add a point of contact for updates on the filed complaint. In response, Dr. Thorp claimed that, as it stands right now, the disciplinary process is lengthy due to the large number of steps and procedures needed to process the complaint properly. Furthermore, Dr. Mahmood mentioned the Medical Board’s app available to all consumers, which allows them to check their doctors’ disciplinary status and noted that only 13,000 users downloaded the app as of the hearing and advocated for a campaign to bring more awareness to the app. Senator John Laird’s inquiry focused on the medical industry’s influence over the Board and its decision-making and the possible conflict of interest that entails. President Pro Tem Atkins echoed a similar sentiment and questioned whether the Board was capable of doing the kind of thorough investigations sought by the inquiring senators.
The Committee also heard from several members of the public opposing the confirmation of these physician members of the Board and raising concerns about conflicts in protecting doctors rather than patients. Many of the callers had family members who had been injured or had been injured themselves by doctors, and contributed an overall sense that the public has lost its trust in the ability of the Board to protect patients.
After the series of questions posed by the senators and public comment, President Pro Tem Atkins further addressed the possible breach of trust to the public in favor of physician interest and sought comments from the three Board members on that subject in their closing statements. In her closing remarks, she also suggested possible future legislation that would add two public members to the Board, which would create a public member majority. She stated she would discuss this further with the policy committees involved in the Board’s Sunset Review. Ultimately, the Rules Committee voted to confirm all three Board members on March 22, 2021.