It was a dark day for the people of Louisiana when the House of Representatives passed legislation (House Bill 843) on Tuesday, practically unopposed, which will limit the ability of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners to initiate or take action against incompetent or impaired physicians or physicians who have engaged in unprofessional behavior.
We have reached this point as the direct result of a campaign of misinformation which convinced the Legislature that there are no due process protections for physicians who are reported to the board and that the legislation which they have proposed is needed to protect doctors, which is not true, and that the legislation will not weaken patient protections, which is not true either.
Physicians have the same protections as anyone else holding a professional or other type of license in the state as set forth in the Louisiana Administrative Procedure Act (LRS 49:950). These protections are spelled out in more detail in the board’s Rules on Adjudication as found in the Louisiana Administrative Code (LAC 46:XLV.9901 et seq).
What will the effect of the legislation be if it becomes law in its current form? Here are the two most damaging ones.
There is a provision in the legislation that would limit the ability of the board to investigate any conduct by a physician that occurred more than three years before it was reported to the board, with the exception of the most serious cases. This would include almost all malpractice cases and cases under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency, as well as other types of cases such as sexual misconduct.
Whether or not a given case qualifies for the exception will be subject to endless dispute.
There is no provision that would exempt investigations or hearings underway from new requirements or limitations. This would have the effect of shutting down some of the investigations and hearings underway with some incompetent/impaired /unprofessional physicians “walking away” with an unrestricted license and no history of disciplinary action.
Indeed, some of the vindictiveness targeting the board and its staff in this campaign of misinformation is likely arising from physicians who have been targeted by the board and who have misrepresented the facts in writing to their legislators or from prescription drug pushers and others who would like the board to go away.
None of this is in the public interest. The people of the state can stop it by writing or calling their state senators and the governor with an appeal to protect them from incompetent/ impaired/ unprofessional conduct and to oppose HB843.
Robert Marier M.D.
executive director, Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners, 2006-2012