Three U.S. senators are asking the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate physician oversight by state medical boards, after several recent media reports, including a C-HIT story on doctor discipline, raised questions about the adequacy of the boards’ supervision.
Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) sent a letter to Daniel Levinson, HHS inspector general, calling on his office to undertake a review of state medical boards to evaluate their performance, including the timeliness and consistency of their decision-making.
The senators cited recent reports by the Connecticut Health I-Team (C-HIT), the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Louis Post Dispatch, all of which pointed to lax oversight of doctors in those states.
C-HIT’s story had uncovered a pattern in Connecticut of doctors who were disciplined in nearby states facing no sanctions in Connecticut, where they were allowed to practice freely. After the story, the state legislature—acting on a recommendation from the Department of Public Health—changed disciplinary rules to allow for automatic sanctions against physicians who are disciplined for misconduct in other states.
“Since the HHS-OIG has not issued a comprehensive evaluation of state medical boards in more than 15 years, it is critical that the HHS-OIG evaluate the effectiveness of state medical boards and provide recommendations to enhance their organizations’ efforts within each state and across state boundaries,” the senators wrote.
“With the adoption of advanced medical technologies. . . and an increase in physicians holding medical licenses in two or more states, it is becoming increasingly important that states issue timely board actions and coordinate licensure actions to protect the public from unqualified or marginally proficient practitioners.’‘
The letter asks the inspector general to suggest improvements for facilitating the sharing of information between medical boards, and to determine whether sanctions by Medicare against doctors are being reported to medical boards and to the National Practitioner Data Bank, a federally run database of disciplinary actions against health professionals.
C-HIT’s report had cited a number of physicians who had been disciplined in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York for prescription violations, billing fraud and substandard care, but who were practicing in Connecticut without any licensure restrictions.
Since the state policy was changed Oct. 1 to allow for automatic reciprocal discipline, the DPH and the Medical Examining Board have taken action against the Connecticut licenses of several physicians who were disciplined in other states.