Investigators with the Medical Board of California (MBC) have been anxiously following a bill winding its way through the legislature which will decide the question of which state agency will be responsible for conducting investigations of doctors and related medical professionals.
Currently MBC's Enforcement Program exists under the umbrella of the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). MBC investigators are peace officers who enforce the provisions of the Medical Practices Act and are tasked with investigating allegations of misconduct on the part of doctors and other selected medical professionals. Medical Board investigations are currently reviewed by the Deputy Attorneys General (DAG) within the Health Quality Assurance Section of the Department of Justice(DOJ). The Deputy Attorneys General also have the responsibility of litigating discipline cases against doctors under a concept known as Vertical Enforcement.
The authority for the MBC to investigate physicians is due to for sunset review this year by the legislature consistent with state law. As a result of issues identified in the review of the MBC program, former Senator Curren Price sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 304. SB 304 initially proposed moving investigative positions currently within MBC to DOJ thereby enhancing communication between DAG and investigators working Medical Board cases, allowing for sharing of databases, consolidating office space and maximizing resources. Advocates of this move argue that these changes would result in investigations being completed faster and thereby making the state more responsive to the public. Obviously, the practical effect of this change would have been to reclassify investigators to special agents which would have increased salary and benefits.
While enjoying initial support, opposition to this bill soon increased primarily due to financial issues. MBC estimated that initial reclassification and relocation costs could reach as high as $1.2 million. Legislative analysts also reported that the state could expect ongoing costs of $1.8 million due to increased salaries in addition to the $2.5 million continuing expenditure to maintain the vertical enforcement program. Due to these costs, the bill was opposed by the Department of Finance.
As a result of continuing objection, lack of legislative support, as well as the loss of the bill's original author, Senator Curren Price due to his election to the LA City Council, the bill did not have the support necessary to pass. As a result, SB 304 was amended on August 12, 2013, placing Medical Board investigators under the DCA, Division of Investigation. This move keeps the investigators under DCA and the salary structure remains thereby avoiding increased costs.
CSLEA questions the effectiveness of this legislation given that it does not address the Vertical Enforcement problems by having investigators reporting to both their internal chain-of-command as well as DOJ review. However, it appears that the legislation enjoys strong support in its current form. CSLEA will continue to monitor progress of SB304 and will keep members informed.