The Texas Medical Board came under fire before the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday for what its critics identify as the Board’s overemphasis on petty physician malfeasance at the expense of protecting the public from bad doctors. Representatives like Fred Brown, asked Mari Robinson and Dr. Roberta Kalafut to respond to physician charges that they spend too much time and money on disciplining doctors guilty of such minor violations as over-billing their patients by $65.00. Opponents of the Board’s practices note that the resulting investigation and disciplinary process associated with even such a small violation can result in large legal fees and other unwieldy burdens on the physician.
Other committee members expressed concern with the TMB’s practice of receiving and pursuing anonymous complaints. Critics have pointed out the Board’s difficulty in investigating such complaints and its clear vulnerability to abuse by the anonymous complainants. The recent resignation of Dr. Keith Miller provided further fodder for the hearing. Dr. Miller resigned from the Board’s disciplinary committee in September after a new law barred members from concurrently serving on the Board and as an expert in medical malpractice suits. Before the passage of the new rule, members of the public had decried the clear conflict of interest presented by Dr. Miller’s employ as a plaintiff’s expert in Texas.
In response to the criticism, the TMB’s Director of Enforcement, Mari Robinson, stated that the Board was considering adopting a rule that would streamline the process for minor violations. Such a rule, Ms. Robinson stated, could aim to achieve resolution of such cases within thirty to sixty days.
Dr. Kalafut, President of the Board, acknowledged that while 99 percent of Texas doctors have never faced a disciplinary action, the number of complaints received in recent years has undergone substantial growth. While the TMB takes public complaints seriously, Dr. Kalafut underscored that as a state agency the Medical Board must follow the current law on what constitutes a violation and how the disciplinary process can proceed.