By Alexei Koseff, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

March 22, 2021

https://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/Politically-connected-appo…

SACRAMENTO - California legislators approved three politically connected appointees Monday to the state board that licenses and regulates doctors, seven months after Gov. Gavin Newsom used his emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic to extend their confirmation deadlines.

The appointees are Asif Mahmood, a Los Angeles County doctor who shared campaign consultants with Newsom when they both ran for statewide office in 2018, and Richard Thorp and Dev GnanaDev, past presidents of the California Medical Association. The organization represents physicians and has longstanding ties to the governor, who dined with its chief executive and top lobbyist at the French Laundry in November.

The state Senate confirmed Mahmood and Thorp by votes of 36-0. But the 30-1 reappointment of GnanaDev, who was first named to the Medical Board of California by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, hinted at a brewing battle over the board itself.

During a testy hearing last week, lawmakers questioned whether the physician-majority board was doing enough to hold doctors accountable when they violate patients' rights. Sen. Melissa Hurtado, a Sanger Fresno County Democrat who cast the only vote against GnanaDev, echoed those complaints Monday.

"Health care consumers in my district have not received the care they deserve," she said. "I am concerned that members of the board have not properly maintained objectivity and could do better in upholding the board's mission of protecting patients."

Mahmood, Thorp and GnanaDev were appointed or reappointed to the 15-member board in June and July of 2019. Ordinarily, they would have to have been confirmed by the Senate within a year to retain the positions. 

But a committee hearing to consider their appointments was pulled from the calendar in March 2020, shortly after the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog wrote to Newsom and legislators to object. Consumer Watchdog, which is in a battle with doctors over the monetary limit for medical malpractice settlements, argued that filling the board with former presidents of an organization that lobbies for doctors would be contrary to its oversight mission.

At the end of August, as the legislative session drew to a close without any of the three receiving a hearing, Newsom issued an executive order moving the confirmation deadline to April 1, 2021.

The Senate Rules Committee finally gave Mahmood, Thorp and GnanaDev a hearing in early February, 11 months after originally scheduled. The three defended themselves against suggestions that their past work would prevent them from serving as advocates for consumers, though Thorp said there needed to be balance with doctors' rights.

"Patient protection is extremely important and needs to be a priority, but without a profession, it's going to be much worse for consumers," he said.