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Corporations Chief Faces Fight for Confirmation

May 09, 1997|Legi-Tech News Service

Keith Bishop may have just two weeks to prove to critics he has the passion of a consumer advocate and the acumen of a top securities lawyer in order to hang on to his job. Bishop was appointed by the governor last May to head the state's Department of Corporations, which regulates HMOs and securities transactions and licenses financial institutions.

But because Bishop faces a chorus of critics charging lax enforcement of consumer rights in HMO mergers and swelling patient complaints, Senate Leader Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) predicts that Bishop will be "a very hard sell in the Senate" when his confirmation comes up in two weeks.

His first test comes Monday when the five-member Senate Rules Committee will vote whether to recommend approval to the full Senate. Gubernatorial appointees can serve in office for a year without confirmation. Bishop must win confirmation by May 22 or look for a new job.

One way Bishop can improve his chances, Senate sources say, is to seek more enforcement money from the Wilson administration. Bishop's critics want to see the department's $9-million enforcement budget increase by at least a third, along with a new get-tough attitude toward HMOs when clients file complaints against them.

Bishop's harshest critics, including Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles), who wants to strip the department of HMO oversight and give the job to the Consumer Affairs Department, have faulted Bishop for assuming that powerful HMOs need his help as much as individual consumers. Others, like Lockyer, see Bishop as competent and well-intentioned, but no fighter for the resources he needs to do an adequate job of oversight.

Gov. Pete Wilson continues to back his candidate, citing Bishop's "overall ability to run the department in its entirety," according to gubernatorial spokesman Steve Tatum.

A number of managed-care groups and corporate lawyers also have announced their support for Bishop.

"He has accomplished more to enhance the business climate and advance the improvement of small business investment than any other single commissioner of corporations in recent years," said Steven Blake, a partner in the law firm of Downey, Brand, Seymour & Rohwer in Sacramento.

That is a view not shared, however, by a large number of health-care advocacy organizations whose representatives testified vehemently against Bishop at a Senate Rules Committee hearing this week.

"He's the wrong person for the job," said Dr. John Roark of the California Physicians' Alliance. He cited Bishop's failure to challenge recent HMO mergers that would place 70% of Californians in just three giant health-care companies.

"This is not an agency focusing on the terrible denials of care going on," he said.

Critics also fault him for the nature of the fines he has imposed, calling them technical "slaps on the wrist" of about $30,000 apiece.


* Online Physician Records

Bottom Line: Consumer advocates want easy access to the records the state keeps on physicians. This bill, modeled after a much-publicized program in Massachusetts, would require the state to make available via phone and the Internet records of any disciplinary actions against doctors.

Chances: The bill cleared the Assembly's Health Committee this week after it was amended to remove the public disclosure of malpractice settlements. The disclosure of this information was opposed by insurers and the California Medical Assn., which argued that malpractice suits without merit are often settled to avoid the cost and time of a trial and disclosing the information to the public could be misleading and prompt fewer settlements. The CMA has since dropped its opposition, improving the chances for passage.

Next Step: May hearing, Assembly Appropriations Committee

Details: AB 103 author Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont) can be reached at (916) 445-7874.

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