The Medical Board of California, reversing an earlier position, has decided to publicly censure all six Kaiser Permanente doctors involved in the death of a Woodland Hills woman whose case has sparked a debate about state oversight of California's largest HMO.
The board also has asked Kaiser Permanente to provide the state agency with more information when it loses malpractice arbitration awards.
Critics have complained that Kaiser has been allowed to name only one doctor when telling the board that it has lost an arbitration -- effectively protecting others who may have been found at fault.
State Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont), who sponsored a 2002 legislation that requires medical providers or their insurance carriers to report at least one doctor to the medical board after losing a malpractice arbitration, welcomed the news Monday.
"These boards deal with life-and-death issues," Figueroa said. "They should be very concerned about the public's protection."
Kaiser spokesman Jim Anderson did not say whether the Oakland-based nonprofit HMO would agree to provide more information about arbitration awards to the agency, but he said executives "plan to work with the medical board constructively" to discuss the issue.
The debate began with the case of Robyn Libitsky, who won a $1-million arbitration award against Kaiser before she died this year at 29 of Ewing's sarcoma, a rare fast-growing cancer.
Libitsky's attorney had argued that Kaiser doctors repeatedly failed to diagnose her case in the early stages, when it might have been effectively treated. Kaiser lawyers said that there was no proof she had the cancer when she first sought help and that all six doctors who saw her acted appropriately.
When Kaiser reported the award to the medical board, which licenses doctors, the health maintenance organization named just one of the six doctors identified in the arbitrators' finding.
The agency noted the arbitration on the doctor's record, available to the public on the board's website.
Libitsky's mother, Hillarie Levy of Simi Valley, wanted the records of all six doctors to reflect the arbitrators' decision. But medical board Executive Director David Thornton said in an Aug. 12 letter to Levy that the board could not publicly censure doctors who were not named by Kaiser's account of the arbitration award.
A Los Angeles Times story Oct. 23 detailed Levy's crusade to change reporting rules for medical malpractice arbitration awards -- most of which involve Kaiser because of the HMO's size and its policy of requiring patients to arbitrate disputes. This prompted Figueroa to ask the medical board to reexamine the Libitsky case.
Thornton wrote Levy again Wednesday to say he had concluded that all doctors involved in the arbitration report should have been reported to the board by Kaiser.
"Kaiser has been informed of my findings and notified that all six physicians will be placed on the board's public disclosure screens," he wrote.
Thornton, who was not available for comment Monday, also wrote a letter to Kaiser Permanente asking the HMO to include a copy of the arbitrators' findings in reporting future awards so board investigators could decide for themselves which doctors should have black marks placed on their records.
By late Monday, only four of the six doctors were reported on the medical board's website, www.medbd.ca.gov, but a spokeswoman said all six would be named by week's end.
"I'm so glad that finally something is being done," Levy said. "I want to see it through for Robyn."