Member of Texas Medical Board Resigns Amid Flood of Criticism

The resignation last week of Keith Miller, MD, a 2003 Perry appointee to the Texas Medical Board, has sparked an outpouring of relief and further recriminations from the beleaguered doctor’s many critics.[i]  A longtime member of the TMB’s disciplinary committee, Dr. Miller claims his resignation is due to the enactment of a rule law barring Board members from serving as expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases. Dr. Miller, who has a long history of serving as a plaintiff’s expert in such cases, believes his resignation was necessary to prevent any appearance of a conflict of interest.[ii]

Opponents of Dr. Miller have alleged that he has exploited his position on the Enforcement Committee, which has the power to revoke and restrict a physician’s state medical license, in his role as an expert witness.[iii]  They claim his involvement in disciplining doctor’s who have violated the Medical Practice Act, including standard of care allegations, at the same time that he has maintained close connections with the plaintiff’s bar and served as an expert, has placed a cloud of impropriety on the Board. In fact opponents could point to his resignation in response to a new Board Rule addressed to precisely this issue as vindication of this claim. 

However, critics of Dr. Miller’s tenure have further accused him of improperly using his position on the TMB to transform the Enforcement Committee into a virtual arm of the insurance industry.[iv]   Board Rules allow anonymous complaints to be made to the TMB which can then serve as the basis of a disciplinary action. Aggrieved physicians have alleged that insurance providers who are dissatisfied with the level of care provided to a covered patient have used such anonymous complaints as a way to punish doctors and maintain low cost levels. Such physicians point out that it is not actually the standard of care which motivates these anonymous complaints but rather a doctor’s decision to supply care whose cost exceeds insurance company guidelines and therefore hurt profits. These maligned anonymous complaints originate from the insurance providers and not the actual patients. In fact the patients whose care is supposedly at issue are frequently surprised when notified of the pending disciplinary action and often testify in favor of their doctor.

However, critics of Dr. Miller’s tenure have further accused him of improperly using his position on the TMB to transform the Enforcement Committee into a virtual arm of the insurance industry.[i]   Board Rules allow anonymous complaints to be made to the TMB which can then serve as the basis of a disciplinary action. Aggrieved physicians have alleged that insurance providers who are dissatisfied with the level of care provided to a covered patient have used such anonymous complaints as a way to punish doctors and maintain low cost levels. Such physicians point out that it is not actually the standard of care which motivates these anonymous complaints but rather a doctor’s decision to supply care whose cost exceeds insurance company guidelines and therefore hurt profits. These maligned anonymous complaints originate from the insurance providers and not the actual patients. In fact the patients whose care is supposedly at issue are frequently surprised when notified of the pending disciplinary action and often testify in favor of their doctor.

Miller’s opponents specifically point to his position on the Texas Medical Advisory Committee of Blue Cross Blue Shield as evidence of his close ties with insurance providers. For instance, Dr. Steven Holtze president of the Project for Freedom of Access to Natural Solutions has alleged that Dr. Miller has used his position to sanction practitioners of environmental medicine, an area of practice disfavored by some insurance providers. This included disciplinary proceedings against Dr. William Rea, the founder of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas.[ii]

The Texas Medical Board initiated their investigation into Dr. Rea following an anonymous complaint which was later found to have been made by the insurance provider for five of his patients. Even though eighteen expert witnesses and all five patients testified in favor of Dr. Rea, the TMB, relying on a single anonymous expert witness, still ruled against the doctor. At the proceeding, Dr. Miller is alleged to have explicitly disregarded all of Dr. Rea’s rebuttal evidence and assured him that he was going to get his license no matter what.

Other cases pointed to as exemplars of the “Star Chamber” style of the Enforcement Committee during Dr. Miller’s tenure include the disciplinary proceeding of Dr. Chris Kuhne.[iii]  There the Board completely ignored an unfavorable decision of the Honorable Administrative Law Judge Wendy Harvel and imposed harsh sanctions for a minor billing error concerning charges for copied of medical records.

It should be noted that any non-anonymous disciplinary sanction no matter how minor will virtually always result in the effected doctor losing access to insurance provider networks and hospital privileges. The cost involved in such a loss, not too mention the often large legal bills required to defend such a case, can be financially devastating. These severe consequences have led many to express a sigh of relief that the Keith Miller era has finally come to a close.

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