By Victoria Colliver, POLITICO PRO

June 2, 2021

Patient advocates lambasted last-minute amendments made to a bill concerning the Medical Board of California, including the gutting of a provision to remake the panel with a public-member majority.

What happened: An earlier version of CA SB806 (21R), by Sen. Richard Roth (D-Riverside), increased the size of the board from 15 to 17 members, allowing for eight physicians and nine public representatives. But amendments made late last week eliminated that proposal from the bill.

The new amendments also call for a more modest hike in annual physician licensing fees, raising them to $863, rather than to $1,150, as previously proposed. The fee has been set at $783 since 2007.

The background: Lack of public trust in the medical board was a key issue in months of testimony given at joint Sunset Review Committee hearings earlier this year that helped shape SB 806. Injured patients and those who have lost loved ones from medical negligence have accused the board of protecting physicians over patients, and lobbied for increased representation from the public.

But the California Medical Association opposed changing the panel's makeup, arguing that other professional boards are made up predominately of professionals. The doctors’ group also objected to a number of the bill's other provisions, including the nearly 47 percent increase in licensing fees it once included.

The medical board would expire on Jan. 1, 2022 without legislation to keep it going.

The impact: At a special meeting held Tuesday evening about SB 806, the medical board members appeared to support having a public majority but were concerned about the board’s shaky finances.

The board is funded primarily by the licensing fees, and staff members said the proposed $80 increase would not be enough for it to avoid insolvency.

Roth, in an interview, said the bill allows the Legislature to review the fee amounts next year to determine whether they’re adequate. He also said a provision that establishes an enforcement officer to monitor the board’s effectiveness serves a similar function to a public-majority board.

The tension: Advocates, led by Consumer Watchdog, accused the CMA of using its lobbying might to gut the provisions they supported. "Clearly money talks, even at the cost of medical safety," said Eric Andrist, a patient safety activist, at Tuesday's board meeting.

But Roth rejected that notion. The CMA, for its part, remains opposed to several provisions of the bill.

What’s next: SB 806 has to pass the Senate by Friday to continue advancing this year. Roth said the Assembly has just as much of an opportunity as the Senate to shape the bill, should it advance. “Everything is still on the table,” he said.