FPPC to Fine Former CalOptima Exec

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Former CalOptima executive Dr. Clayton Chau has agreed to pay a $2,000 fine issued by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission for failing to disclose $12,033 in drug company speaking fees, according to a filing posted Monday on the FPPC’s website.

Chau, who was head of Behaviorial Health at CalOptima from December 2012 through September 2013, failed to list London-based pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca as a source of income on his annual conflict of interest form, known as a Form 700, despite receiving $12,033 in payments from the company in the year leading up to his hiring, according to the FPPC.

The California Political Reform Act requires all state and local government workers whose jobs are important enough for them to influence contracts, hiring or any other financial decisions to publicly file Form 700s.

In 2013, a Voice of OC investigation found that Chau received $149,000 in speaking fees from AstraZeneca and other pharmaceutical companies from 2009 to 2012. AstraZeneca manufactures a top-selling antipsychotic drug that is on the Health Care Agency’s formulary of medications that may be prescribed by county doctors.

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 drug over others in its class.

In handing down its punishment to Chau, the FPPC said at the very least he should have properly disclosed the payments.

 “Although no conflicts of interest were identified, accepting income from a business entity that does business with your governmental entity creates a high potential for conflicts of interest, and failing to report that income creates, at the very least, the appearance of impropriety,” reads the FPPC filing.

Chau will be fined $2,000 out of a maximum penalty of $5,000 because he has no prior history of violating the Political Reform Act, according to the filing. Chau agreed to the fine to settle the case, the FPPC reported.

The fine won’t be finalized until approved by the agency’s commission at a Nov. 20 meeting.

Chau, who also owned a private psychiatric practice in Garden Grove, worked for the county Health Care Agency from 2000 to 2012. In December 2012 he moved to CalOptima, the county’s health plan for more than 600,000 low income, disabled and elderly residents, and stayed there for 10 months, leaving in September 2013.

The Voice of OC investigation found that of the $149,000 in speaking fees Chau received, at least $84,250 of those fees were in apparent violation of an HCA 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.

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.

In September 2013, two months after Voice of OC published its investigation, Chau left CalOptima to be Medical Director for Behavior Health at Los Angeles CARE Health Plan, a similar program for Medi-Cal and Medicare patients in Los Angeles County. 

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.

Chau and his partner continue to own two Rockin’ Crawfish restaurants, one in Westminster and the other in Fountain Valley.

You can contact Thy Vo directly at thyanhvo@gmail.com.

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