Two legislative committees Wednesday advanced identical bills that would strengthen consumer protections against Hawaii physicians who are sanctioned by other states for misconduct or other licensing violations.
A key feature of the legislation would give the Hawaii Medical Board the authority to quickly impose the same discipline that another state already has authorized following an investigation.
Senate Bill 2864 and House Bill 2335 would:
>> Expedite the discipline process for Hawaii doctors sanctioned in other states or by a federal agency
>> Allow the Hawaii Medical Board to use another state’s order to impose the same sanction
>> Prohibit physicians from treating Hawaii patients if banned from practicing elsewhere while the board pursues permanent action
The two bills also would enable the board to summarily suspend the Hawaii license of a doctor who loses practicing privileges in another state, preventing the physician from treating patients here while the board pursues more permanent action.
“This puts patient safety first,” said Rep. Della Au Belatti (D, Moiliili-Makiki-Tantalus), who heads the House Health Committee.
HB 2335 and SB 2864, both proposed by Gov. David Ige’s administration, would address a major gap in the physician oversight system that was exposed in a recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser series.
The newspaper uncovered multiple cases of Hawaii doctors who were able to practice for long periods after losing their privileges in other states because of serious misconduct. Many doctors have licenses in more than one state.
The Star-Advertiser’s “Ailing Oversight” series found that Hawaii regulators frequently took two years or more to impose reciprocal discipline after doctors were sanctioned in other states. Timely action is considered critical to protecting consumers.
The Hawaii process often takes longer than what is common elsewhere because regulators here conduct their own investigations. In other states where the process moves more quickly, the boards rely on the discipline documentation from other states to take action, saying there is no need to re-investigate the underlying charges.
The legislation advanced Wednesday by Belatti’s committee and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health embraces that streamlined approach.
It specifies that a certified copy of a discipline order from another state is sufficient evidence for the Hawaii board to take the same action.
“This really would allow the board to keep pace with other boards across the nation,” the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs’ Daria Loy-Goto told legislators.
Loy-Goto is the complaints and enforcement officer for the Regulated Industries Complaints Office, which handles investigations of doctors and other licensed professionals.
While Sen. Rosalyn Baker’s committee advanced SB 2864, she said she favored broadening the measure so that other state boards regulating health care professionals, such as nursing and dentists, would have the same authority in handling reciprocal discipline.
Baker (D, West Maui-South Maui) introduced a bill, SB 2675, that takes the broader approach. The measure, which quotes findings from the Star-Advertiser series, also bolsters the process for evaluating health care professionals who are seeking Hawaii licenses but have had credentials suspended or revoked in another jurisdiction.
The newspaper found gaps in that area as well.
“We need to make sure that everybody is doing what’s appropriate in terms of entry and exit of the professions,” Baker said at Wednesday’s committee hearing.
Loy-Goto told Baker that the administration bill provided a simpler, more expedient process for imposing reciprocal discipline but that the legislation could be amended to add the other health care professionals.
Baker’s committee deferred action on SB 2675 until next week.
That bill and the two administration measures were supported by the Hawaii Medical Association, the trade and lobbying group for local physicians.
“The HMA is fully supportive of quick and decisive action in the event of adverse disciplinary actions taken against physicians in other states,” the group said in written testimony.
The HMA recommended one change to the administration bill: Give the medical board a way to summarily suspend a license within 48 hours of discovering a significant risk to Hawaii patient safety.
HB 2335 now goes to the House Consumer Protection Committee. SB 2864 goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.