The California agency that regulates doctors is investigating at least four doctors to issue questionable medical exemptions to children whose parents didn't want them immunized.
Medical Board of California investigations are taking place in the midst of the worst of the nation measles epidemic in more than a quarter of a century, as California legislators considers controversial legislation tighten the requirements for the exemption of children from the vaccinations required to attend schools and day centers.
Last month, the Consumer Affairs Department, which oversees the medical council, sued the state court for obtaining medical records for Sacramento area pediatricians Dr. Kelly Sutton is Dr. Michael Fielding Allen.
Over the past nine months, the council has also searched for patient records in connection with two Santa Rosa doctors under investigation for writing allegedly inappropriate exemptions.
The state acted on the Sutton and Allen lawsuits following complaints addressed to the medical commission by Dr. Wendy Cerny, assistant head of pediatrics at a Kaiser Permanente clinic in Roseville, as court documents show. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanante.) Cerny contacted the Sutton board of directors in February 2017 and e-mailed Allen 15 months later, according to the documents.
Cerny worried after seeing permanent medical exemptions for Kaiser Permanente pediatric patients written by Sutton and Allen citing reasons "a personal history of genetic defect" food and environmental allergies, "neurological vulnerability" and a family history of mental disorders, according to the legal documents.
The doctors under investigation are not Kaiser Permanente doctors, but the parents went to them for vaccination exemptions. In one case, Sutton issued a "lifelong exemption from all vaccines" to a boy before his family joined Kaiser Permanente, according to Cerny's complaint. When one of Cerny's colleagues refused to write similar exemptions for the boy's two younger brothers, his mother said she would return to Sutton to pick them up, the report said.
"We believe that this doctor and perhaps his colleagues … are making easy money with these exemptions that are not based on real medical needs and are actually putting children and other people in the community at risk of contracting and spreading serious infectious diseases" , Cerny wrote in his complaint about Sutton.
Vaccine exemptions for medical reasons should be rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are generally reserved for children with severely compromised immune systems, such as those treated for cancer or those who are allergic to a vaccine component or who have previously had a severe reaction to a vaccine.
A spokesman for the medical commission declined to comment on the cases. The agency generally does not recognize surveys publicly unless a formal accusation is filed against a doctor.
But the council's legal efforts to get patient records throws rare light on how the agency handles such complaints.
"He tells me that there are doctors who are giving problem exemptions and the Medical Board of California is taking this problem very seriously," said Dorit Reiss, professor at the University of California-Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco who studies the vaccine law.
Sutton and Allen did not respond to phone calls and emails for comments.
Sutton, based in Fair Oaks, is known as a referring physician for exemptions from the medical vaccine. She offers a $ 97 "program" that claims to "help protect the child from the vaccination mandate" one size fits all "in California."
Cerny presented copies of the Sutton and Allen exemption letters in the complaints filed with the medical commission, but the patients' names were blocked. The commission wants the names of those children and their parents, and has asked the court to oblige the Permanente Medical Group, a subsidiary of Kaiser Permanente, to deliver the non-reduced versions of the letters.
The board also wants Kaiser Permanente to hand over the patient's medical records, which he believes will help determine whether the exemptions written by Sutton and Allen were actually undeserved.
In June, Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ordered the permanent medical group to reveal the names of patients known to have received medical exemptions from Allen, as well as the names and addresses of their parents. He has not yet issued a sentence in the Sutton case.
Kaiser Permanente said he would comply with court orders.
"We take the health and safety of our members, patients and communities very seriously," said Dr. Stephen Parodi, associate executive director of the Permanente Medical Group, via e-mail.
In a case similar to that of Sutton and Allen, a judge ordered the permanent medical group in November to provide the names of patients and parents mentioned in a medical commission investigation by dr. Kenneth Stoller, a Santa Rosa doctor who granted exemptions to vaccines for children who were Kaiser Permanente patients, as well as others in the unified Mammoth school district.
Stoller, who is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente, is also be investigated by the prosecutor of the city of San Francisco, where he used to practice. He did not respond to a request for comment.
In April, Judge Schulman granted a petition from the state that orders Dr. Ron Kennedy to deliver the medical records of children to those who had issued vaccination exemptions. Kennedy, a psychiatrist who runs an anti-aging clinic in Santa Rosa, has written numerous exemptions for children, according to court records.
Kennedy's attorney, Michael Machat, said his client had delivered the ordered documents.
"The medical council has adopted the practice of thinking that it can invade people's privacy and look for children's private medical records to see if doctors are following the law or not," Machat said. "Where does this end?"
To date, the only doctor sanctioned for inappropriate medical vaccine exemptions is the Southern California pediatrician Robert Sears, known author of "The Vaccine Book".
In 2015, California banned all philosophical and religious exemptions for vaccinations in the wake of a large outbreak of measles that originated at Disneyland. He is one of four states to have done so, and his vaccination rate rose sharply for three years after the law was strengthened. But vaccination rates they refused in the last two years, partly because many parents opposed to vaccines have found doctors willing to write questionable medical exemptions – sometimes for a fee.
California's vaccination policies are once again drawing national attention in the wake of the nation's recent measles outbreak, which has totaled 1,095 cases since June 27th. In California, 55 cases were reported to 26 June.
An outstanding law in the California legislature, SB-276, would require greater supervision of vaccine exemptions written by doctors. After passing the state senate in May, he was softened appease Governor Gavin Newsom would still have allowed the Department of Public Health to examine a few exceptions. It would also prevent doctors who are under investigation from writing unjustified exemptions from issuing new ones.
Newsom said it will sign the legislation if it lands on its desk.
This article has been reprinted by khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent publishing service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partner research organization of health policy not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
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