The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee advanced a bill Wednesday (April 7) that would dissolve the State Medical Board at the end of this year and let House and Senate leaders each appoint one-third of its members.
Senate Bill 570 by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, would end the terms of each of the members of the Arkansas State Medical Board by Dec. 31. They would be replaced or reappointed by that date.
The governor, Senate president pro tempore, and speaker of the House each would appoint five members. The governor currently appoints all the members of the panel that oversees the state’s medical community and licensing.
In presenting his bill, Sullivan said boards have become more powerful, and they control licenses and scopes of practice.
“At times these boards have become even more impactful, and exercise greater power, than the legislative bodies,” he said. “There are times when a reset is appropriate, and I believe this is one of those times. Arkansas continually ranks at the bottom nationally. The boards have some responsibility and accountability in those rankings, as does the Legislature and the appointing bodies.”
He emphasized that current board members can be reappointed and said, “There’s no intent to punish anyone because of any decisions or actions – only allow co-equal representation and equity within the board.”
Sullivan said the board represents 18,700 professionals. The legislation specifies that one member of the board will be a practicing physician assistant and one will be a practicing occupational therapist. It says that congressional district representation should be considered.
“This bill is about co-equal branches of government considering appointments. It considers equity in the representation on the board, and it’s striving to improve our national health care rankings,” he said. “We need to be proactive in bringing Arkansas more in line with national rankings in such things as telehealth, scope of practice, and business restrictions, and I think that a change in how board members are appointed helps us get there.”
Bruce Campbell, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s senior advisor who previously served as the governor’s director of appointments, said his office opposes the provision that would reduce the number of positions appointed by the governor. Otherwise, it was okay with the bill.
Rep. Stephen Magie, D-Conway, a physician, spoke against the bill. He said appointments should remain with the governor and asked why the State Medical Board was being singled out for this legislation. He said it can be hard to get people to serve on the Medical Board and that changing the appointment process would cause members to avoid serving or being reappointed, He said institutional knowledge would be lost.
The bill amends current state law that says the governor shall appoint 10 members who are qualified and active medical practitioners after consulting with the Arkansas Medical Society. Under the proposed bill, three would be appointed that way – one by each of the elected officials.
David Wroten, executive vice president of the Arkansas Medical Society, said his organization had not yet taken a position on the bill. He said the governor is in a position to know what is happening across the state, and that if the speaker of the House and president pro tempore are going to make appointments, it should be consistent across all boards. He said Arkansas’ national health care rankings are the result of Arkansans’ health care practices and should be addressed by other legislation.
Matt Gilmore with the Department of Health said the board sees repeat applicants whose licenses are denied based on the board’s institutional knowledge. That knowledge is also important as the board reviews about 400 complaints a year.
The committee also advanced a bill by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, that would require the Arkansas Medicaid Program and the Department of Human Services to have a court reconsider consent decrees with various entities, some of which go back as far as 1986. A consent decree is a judge’s order that is based on an agreement between the parties involved in a lawsuit.
Hester told the committee that no one had asked him to run the bill. Instead, he said the world has changed and the consent decrees need to be reviewed.