Chau Leaving CalOptima for LA County Health Care Agency

After less than a year, Dr. Clayton Chau is leaving his post as director of behavioral health at CalOptima, Orange County’s health plan for low-income, disabled and elderly resident, and taking a job with a Los Angeles County program that provides similar services.

Kellie Todd, spokeswoman for CalOptima, said Chau’s resignation was announced to the staff on Thursday, and they were told he was taking a position with L.A. Care Health Plan, which provides Medi-Cal and Medicare coverage to more than one million Los Angeles County residents.

Chau became CalOptima’s director of Behavioral Health in December 2012 at a $242,000 annual salary. He transferred from the Orange County Health Care Agency or HCA, where he worked as a psychiatrist since 2000 at a base salary of $177,611 plus an additional $18,480 a year as a special-assignment doctor. It wasn’t immediately known what his title and salary will be in his new position at L.A. Care.

The 48-year-old Chau, who was born in Vietnam and fled with his family after the North Vietnamese took over, has been honored for his mental health outreach to homeless, ethnic, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in Orange County.

In July, Voice of OC reported that Chau received at least $149,000 in speaking fees from pharmaceutical companies while a psychiatrist at the HCA, including $84,250 in apparent violation of an agency policy against accepting such payments.

Agency officials later said they didn’t know he was in violation of the policy until after he moved to CalOptima. Mark Refowitz, head of the HCA and chairman of the CalOptima board of directors, said Chau never told him of his outside pharmaceutical payments.

Most of the payments to Chau came from London-based AstraZeneca, which manufactures a top-selling antipsychotic drug that is on the formulary of the HCA. The formulary lists medications that may be prescribed by county doctors. Chau also received speaking fees from Eli Lilly, another firm with lucrative drugs on the formulary.

It’s legal for doctors to accept speaking fees from pharmaceutical companies, but the practice is controversial. There are increasing concerns that doctors who receive large speaking fees from a company will feel some level of pressure to prescribe that company's drugs over others in their class.

In 2009, the HCA imposed a ban on doctors taking speaking fees and other outside income, but Chau continued to receive speaking fees into 2012, according to pharmaceutical company records.

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