Latest Amendments Strengthen Doctor-Patient Relationship, Support Robust Legitimate Medical Exemptions, and Protect Community Health from Preventable Outbreaks
SACRAMENTO - Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) issued the following statement on SB 276, as recently amended, by Senator Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento):
“In 2015, when I served as Chair of the Assembly Health Committee and presided over Senator Dr. Richard Pan’s presentation of SB 277, I supported the bill after we strengthened the medical exemption component. I believed then, and continue to believe now, that if a patient has a valid medical reason for not getting vaccinated, then that patient should be able to obtain a medical exemption. There are people who are immunocompromised who cannot be vaccinated. But to protect them, we must do everything we can to maintain the highest possible community immunity rates. Over the last three years, we have seen some doctors effectively selling fraudulent medical exemptions. As a result, there are schools in California with more than 50 percent of students who are unvaccinated. It is virtually statistically impossible to have such high concentrations of legitimate medical exemptions. The legitimate medical exemption rate is estimated to be less than 1 percent and those exemptions would be expected to be randomly distributed throughout a community. We cannot ignore the evidence that the medical exemption is being exploited. This is not what SB 277 was intended to do and is an abuse of the medical exemption in SB 277 that I supported. What’s more, it is a threat to public health.
“I have been heavily engaged in the details and impacts of this bill over the last few weeks, speaking at length with opponents, supporters, constituents, parents, medical experts, and attorneys. I have also been communicating directly with Senator Dr. Richard Pan to express my concerns about the previous version of SB 276 and offered suggestions to strengthen it by focusing on preserving the doctor-patient relationship and a robust set of true medical exemptions, while protecting the public from potentially deadly and harmful outbreaks.
“I believe the amendments made by Dr. Pan move the bill in a positive direction and address my concerns. The amendments allow doctors to grant legitimate medical exemptions, and put in place a strong framework whereby doctors at the California Department of Public Health would review medical exemptions to ensure these medical exemptions are true medical exemptions based on science and medicine—not fraudulent medical exemptions, illegitimate medical exemptions, or personal belief exemptions disguised as medical exemptions. This peer-to-peer review among physicians is a longstanding and established practice within the medical community to promote high-quality care and compliance with professional standards of care.
“In particular, I was concerned that SB 276 in its original form did not include all legitimate medical and science-based reasons, such as family medical history, for a medical exemption. Senator Pan’s recent amendments remedy this concern.
“The amendments also empower the California Medical Board to investigate and take disciplinary action against any doctors found to be granting fraudulent or otherwise illegitimate medical exemptions.
“Ultimately, SB 276, as amended, will promote high levels of community immunity rates to safeguard the public against preventable outbreaks of diseases while allowing for doctors to continue to provide true, science-based medical exemptions. This is what I stood for when I supported SB 277 and what I stand for now. Doctors are not entitled to provide, nor are patients entitled to receive, illegitimate or fraudulent medical exemptions.
“With Senator Pan’s recent amendments to SB 276, I plan to support the bill when it comes up for a vote in the Assembly Health Committee tomorrow.”
Assemblymember Rob Bonta represents the 18th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro and is the Assistant Majority Leader.