American Academy of Emergency Medicine

California Medical Association Joins Suit Against the University of California System

According to a report issued on December 10, 1998, the California Medical Association (CMA) has joined a group of Santa Monica physicians in a lawsuit against the University of California Regents. The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, challenges recent UCLA Medical Center business decisions that violate state law and could adversely affect patient care.

The suit asserts that UCLA's aggressive plan to establish a network of medical facilities in southern California is disrupting patients' continuity of care and restricting patients' choice of physicians. "It is with great regret that we join this suit," the report quotes CMA President Robert A. Reid, MD, as saying. "We are strong supporters of the UC system, whose high-quality medical education, research, and specialized patient care services are precious assets to California. We are also well aware of the problems the UC system faces in funding graduate medical education. But this is not the way to solve those problems."

CMA's suit charges that UCLA's business plan goes beyond the school's historical role as a teaching and research institution to form a network of for-profit facilities that engage in the unlicensed corporate practice of medicine, forcing community-based physicians into unlawful fee-splitting and referral schemes. Such schemes, the suit alleges, force many physicians out of private practice and into UC employment. It also requires that staff physicians refer patients to UCLA medical staff only, thus depriving patients access to their physicians of choice.

The suit further asserts that UCLA falsely advertises that its facilities are staffed by "assistant clinical professors" and "faculty members." Many new UCLA physicians have no such teaching experience and perform little significant teaching or research duties, the suit contends, but are merely designated as such on employment.

Editor's Note: AAEM members should quickly realize that the CMA's stance in this matter is nearly identical to the points raised by AAEM during our action on behalf of the emergency physicians affected by the Catholic Healthcare West/EPMG deal. In that matter AAEM pointed out the concerns regarding the illegal corporate practice of medicine and fee-splitting. The forced referral issue is central to the situation in Green Bay where AAEM recently supported a large group of emergency physicians in a disagreement with a hospital system. Importantly, in both the CHW and Green Bay case, the involved physicians sought support from ACEP and were rejected out of hand. The CMA's action clearly supports AAEM's belief that it right and proper and NOT a matter of anti-trust for a professional society to speak on behalf of physicians when they are coerced into suspect contractual arrangments by hospitals or management companies. If you are further interested in such matters be sure to access the AAEM website at http://www.aaem.org to view our recent additions regarding fee-splitting/kickbacks.