Against counsel of some DOs, legislature votes to merge medical boards 

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

“Merging these two boards will do irreparable harm to the osteopathic profession.” 

Dr. Michael Antolini, DO, and a graduate of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, did not mince words when he testified about the effects of SB714. The purpose of the bill is to combine the state’s two medical boards for doctors into one. 

The bill is sponsored by a practicing osteopathic doctor, Senator Tom Takubo (R-Kanawha), and an elected official who represents the district where the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine is located, Senator Vince Deeds (R-Greenbrier). It would create a new, combined board with at least four osteopathic doctors, at least four medical doctors, and four doctors appointed by the governor. 

Currently, osteopathic doctors (DOs for short) and medical doctors (MDs for short) report to separate boards for training, licensure, and more.  

Senator Takubo explained the impetus for the bill to the House Government Organization Committee last week, saying, “The thought process is modernizing the board.” He told delegates that 37 other states have combined boards currently. He says it is confusing for the public and even for physicians to have two different boards. “I’ve called the wrong board myself whenI had a question. Government needs to be clean.”

In further testimony, Jonathan Osborn (Executive Director of the Board of Osteopathic Medicine) told delegates not to expect any cost savings with the move. “I can say that the number of staff required to do what we do would be the same. I don’t believe there’s any cost savings as far as that goes. Having one location may save money. I don’t believe the main impetus for this is cost savings. It’s completely self funded (now).” 

Dr. Michael Antolini

Dr. Michael Antolini (DO), testified that, “My osteopathic brethren have grave concerns about what happens to the osteopathic profession (under this bill).” 

He continued, “There are better models in other states. I respectfully request that you consider studying this further so that we can include all stakeholders in this decision making and come up with the absolute best solution.”

A few minutes later while Dr. Antolini was responding to questions, Del. Pat McGeehan (R-Hancock) called a “point of order.” This halted Antolini’s testimony as McGeehan asked the committee chair to remind the witness that he can only speak for himself. 

Antolini resumed his testimony, saying, “We are doing this with the backdrop of large corporations taking over smaller communities and hospitals. The similar creep that is occurring could also impact the school (WVSOM) in such a way that it limits the opportunity for osteopathic physicians to get into residency slots and student rotations as the market gets saturated with bigger corporations taking over smaller hospitals. The osteopathic profession may suffer. Diminishing the osteopathic profession may be considered hostile by my constituency. They are free to vote with their feet and their dollars.”

Delegate Doug Smith (R-Mercer) seemed to take offense at Antolini’s testimony. The committee recessed and Antolini was dismissed as an expert witness by the committee chair. 

WVSOM was not present to testify on the bill, despite a request from a committee member to take the podium. 

House amends and passes bill

The bill then languished for close to a week, before reappearing on the House calendar Monday. McGeehan offered an amendment to change the composition of the board from four DOs, four MDs, and four gubernatorial appointments to five DOs, five, MDs, and two gubernatorial appointments. An additional nine board members will hold board seats but those seats are not limited to certain doctors. 

“Presumably…you could have seven osteopathic doctors and five medical doctors, so that should alleviate any type of concern you have,” McGeehan said on the House floor in response to a question from Del. Larry Rowe about imbalance on the board. 

Rowe also asked whether the board would have full control over licensing, including MDs for example having control over the licenses of DOs? 

“Yes,” McGeehan replied. 

Rowe spoke in opposition to the bill, saying he saw no “pressing need” to combine the two boards and potentially have certain doctors presiding over other types of doctors. 

The House voted 70-26 to approve the bill.

WVSOM Board declines to take a position

Days after the Senate voted to pass SB714, the WVSOM Board of Governors held an emergency meeting. The one agenda item was listed as, “To immediately review and consider Senate Bill 714, which would transfer duties and licensing from the Board of Osteopathic Medicine to the Board of Medicine. Senate Bill 714 has already passed the West Virginia Senate and will be under immediate consideration in the West Virginia House of Delegates. The WVSOM Board of Governors must act immediately through an emergency meeting to review, consider, and address the legislation and its impact on the osteopathic profession in West Virginia.”

Following the meeting, WVSOM President Jim Nemitz commented to RealWV, “The board met and decided that the school should have a neutral position on this bill. There are DOs who are for the bill and those who are opposed.”

Since the bill was amended in the House, it will head back to the Senate for final approval this week. The legislative session ends at midnight on Saturday. All bills must be reconciled by then if they are to become law.

Facebook
Twitter
Reddit
Email

Related stories

Give us your feedback