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Citing a Star Tribune investigation, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley and two other U.S. Senators have requested a federal review of how state medical boards handle doctor discipline.

Glen Stubbe, Dml - Star Tribune

Feb. 17: U.S. senators ask for more oversight of medical boards

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW and GLENN HOWATT
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • February 17, 2012 - 10:20 AM

Three U.S. Senators have asked federal health officials to review the way state medical boards regulate the nation's physicians.

The request was prompted by recent reports from a citizen's watchdog group and three newspapers, including the Star Tribune, that "highlighted disturbing failures of state medical boards to discipline physicians," the senators said. The letter was signed by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Max Baucus, D-Montana.

In a Feb. 15 letter, the senators asked the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to "evaluate the effectiveness" of state boards and provide recommendations on ways to protect the public from "unqualified or marginally proficient practitioners."

Among their concerns, the senators noted that the number of serious disciplinary actions imposed on doctors by state medical boards was 20 percent lower in 2010 than in 2004.

In a Star Tribune investigation of the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, it was revealed that at least 46 Minnesota doctors escaped board discipline after authorities in other states took action against their licenses for such missteps as committing crimes, patient care errors or having sexual or inappropriate relationships with patients.

The Star Tribune's report, published earlier this month, also showed that the board never disciplined more than half of the 74 doctors who lost their privileges to work in Minnesota hospitals and clinics over the past decade.

The board, which oversees 20,000 physicians, said its record reflects a philosophy of correcting problems rather than punishing practitioners.

A Minnesota legislative commission has recommended that the medical board continue in its current form. However, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, the commission chairwoman, said the commission plans to meet with board officials at a 9 a.m. public hearing Friday at the State Office Building to talk about questions raised by the Star Tribune investigation.

"In light of the new information, we want to take another look," Kiffmeyer said. "We want to give them an opportunity to defend themselves and [give the commission] an opportunity to reconsider what they want to do. ... This is really about protecting the public and not protecting the doctors."

richm@startribune.com • (612) 673-4425 howatt@startribune.com • (612) 673-7192

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