By Jane M. Orient, MD
A bill, SB 286 introduced by Sen. John Milkovich, that would give doctors the right to defend themselves if brought before the state licensure board, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners (LSBME), was heard in the Louisiana state House of Representatives on May 2. If it passes, doctors could find out exactly what they’re accused of, see the evidence, and present a defense to an unbiased judge and jury. They are Americans, right? Even terrorists and rapists have these rights.
In fact, a doctor can be delicensed, bankrupted, disgraced, and made unemployable, based on an anonymous complaint that might have come from a disgruntled employee, a jealous competitor, an insurance company that doesn’t want to pay a bill, or a drug addict who wants a lighter sentence for stealing a prescription pad and forging prescriptions.
A board employee functions as investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. The politically appointed members of the board almost always rubber-stamp what the board staff wants. The staff generally controls the flow of information to board members and accused doctors. The doctor has no right to cross-examine accusers, to ask that conflicted or biased staff be recused, or to challenge the evidence against him—which he might not even have seen.
Don’t believe it? Listen to the testimony on SB286, the Physician’s Bill of Rights. (It starts at 1 hr, 34 minutes into the official video.) You’ll hear about doctors who were tops in their field unable practice their profession anywhere. At least six physicians were driven to suicide. A physician’s disabled employee lost her profession and livelihood when the board forced him to fire her. Families were devastated. Doctors were forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars and months in remote in-patient drug rehabilitation facilities, even though the facilities themselves found that the doctor never had a drug problem.
Most disturbing are the remarks by the opponents of due process rights for physicians, including the Federation of State Medical Boards and Public Citizen, a self-identified consumer advocate group. They did not contradict testimony about abuses. Instead, they asserted that “doctors need to be held to a higher standard” because “patients’ lives are at stake.” There’s an opioid epidemic, and sexual misconduct occurs, and complainants may fear retaliation of some sort if their identity is disclosed. Therefore, we dare not “tie the board’s hands” and impede their ability to “protect the public against bad doctors.” If the board ruins a few good doctors and even drives some to suicide, so what?
Doctors have “enough” rights, it was claimed. The current executive director of the LSBME read aloud from the board’s policy manual. But despite a legislator’s repeated attempt to get a “straight answer” out of him, he would not say whether one of the doctors who testified could finally get a copy of his own complete file, which he had been requesting for years.
The board’s supporters were dismayed at the prospect that a doctor might be able to question an investigator’s objectivity. Witnesses for the bill mentioned, several times, the chief investigator, She-Who-Is-Not-Supposed-to-Be-Named, who was formerly also the executive director. She had dismissed thousands of complaints and had been helpful to some doctors, but had ferociously attacked others, who appeared to be exemplary physicians.
So, who should care about a few doctors who might have been treated unfairly?
Doctors thinking of practicing in Louisiana should watch what happens with this legislation. Young people considering a medical career should be aware that their huge investment of money and years of their life could be wasted at the whim of a powerful official who is immune from any accountability for wrongfully destroyed lives. (The situation is not confined to Louisiana.)
Patients should worry. Thousands of Louisiana patients found themselves suddenly without treatment, and shunned by other doctors who feared being the next pain-management doctor to be cut down. Patients needing an affordable diagnostic test will have fewer choices because an excellent CT scanner and MRI machine were sold to someone in Dubai by a highly competent American doctor delicensed and bankrupted by the LSBME. Sick patients will have to rely more on practitioners with limited training because of the shortage of highly trained, experienced physicians.
All Americans should be alarmed at the burgeoning power of the administrative state, which is exempt from the limits placed on regular civil and criminal courts. If doctors can be stripped of their rights, so can you. Please watch the hearing and see for yourself.