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House Government Organization Committee moves bill, creating newly structured West Virginia Board of Medicine, to full House

By Autumn Shelton, West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia House of Delegates’ Government Organization Committee on Monday passed Senate Bill 714, which would combine the West Virginia Board of Osteopathic Medicine and the West Virginia Board of Medicine, out to the full House.  

The bill is on first reading on the House Special Calendar for today. The State Senate passed the bill on Feb. 16. 

According to the bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, along with co-sponsor Sen. Vince Deeds, R-Greenbrier, beginning on Jan. 1, 2025, a newly structured West Virginia Board of Medicine will also assume all the rights currently belonging to the Board of Osteopathic Medicine, including issuing licenses and other practice credentials, and regulating the professional conduct and discipline of osteopathic physicians. 

The bill continues that current members of the Board of Medicine and the Board of Osteopathic Medicine shall serve as members of the combined Board of Medicine until their term expires. 

After Jan. 1, 2025, board membership will be reappointed to “limit the board to 21 members.” 

Board members are to include the state health officer, 12 physicians, one podiatrist, three physician assistants and four citizen members. 

An amendment made by the House Committee on Government Organization states that at least four of the physicians appointed to the board shall be allopathic physicians and at least four board members shall be osteopathic physicians. 

“With the exception of the state health officer, all members shall be appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate,” the bill continues. Additionally, “a person is not eligible for membership on the board who is a member of any political party executive committee, or, with the exception of the state health officer, who holds any public office.” 

The bill also sets forth additional qualifications that are needed before a board member may be appointed. 

The second part of the bill, as explained by counsel, deals with “genetic counseling.” 

“Current code does not treat that,” according to counsel, “There is a national accrediting body so to be a genetic counselor, you will have to have a master’s degree – that doesn’t allow for diagnosis, it doesn’t allow for surgery or anything, but it does allow them to sit down with the patient, from my understanding, and go over family history any test results, and discuss what they may want to do given what they’re prone to or their family history would suggest what they’re prone to.” 

Sen. Takubo was present during the committee meeting to answer the delegates’ questions, where he first discussed improving the new combined board’s ability to improve its technological capability. 

“The thought process is modernizing the board,” Takubo began. “Their job is to protect the public. One of the ways they protect the public is number one, ‘Are you licensed to be doing whatever you’re doing?’ Number two, ‘Are you keeping up with that licensure?’”

Takubo said that both boards currently only audit about 10 percent of licensed professionals to ensure they are maintaining their licenses appropriately. 

“So, about 90 percent of the time, they are taking physicians and PA’s (physician assistants) at their word that they are keeping their CME (continuing medical education) updated,” Takubo said. “If they modernize it, they could be monitoring 100 percent to make sure that everybody is up to the newest standards.” 

Takubo continued that there “has been talk” for months about combining the boards, and there is some “confusion” that the MD board is “soaking up” the DO board. 

“That’s just not true,” Takubo stated. “Both boards are collapsing. There is going to be a merger of a new joint board.” 

He said both boards have been in frequent communication about the issue. 

“When I have asked them both, separately and together, ‘Do you see benefit, are there synergies, is there a means to better protect the public of West Virginia by working together jointly?’ They say, ‘We do this every day. Yes, we see the benefit of it,’” Takubo said, adding that there is one member of one board who is against this, but the other members “approve it.” 

Takubo said, should this bill pass, West Virginia would become the 38th state to have a combined medical board. 

“I think this bill, if [it] passes, will really be a model legislation for the AOA (American Osteopathic Association), even though they say they are against it now because they want things to be unique and different,” Takubo said. “So, we are duplicating the process in West Virginia, because in all other states, the most DO’s have is two other members.” 

Jonathan Osborne, executive director of the Board of Osteopathic Medicine, was next to speak. 

“I believe that both boards are currently efficient,” he said in response to questioning. “I believe that my board is very efficient. I think that we are small and nimble and able to efficiently process applications. However, there are things in this bill, as Sen. Takubo is mentioning, we have certainly worked on this bill to ensure that, if it does move forward, that it’s the best it can be.” 

Osborne said that he couldn’t speak on this bill’s impact on the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) should it pass, but he said that “a great many family practitioners in rural areas are DOs.” 

“The Board of Osteopathic Medicine’s position on this is whether or not the two boards merging is a policy issue. Our goal is protection of the public, and so what we want to ensure is if this bill [goes] forward, then it is the best bill that it could be,” Osborne said, adding that he is not aware of any study of the efficiency of merging the two boards, and he doesn’t foresee any adverse effects in merging the two boards from the perspective of “protecting the public.” 

Michael Antolini, DO, then rose to speak on the bill. 

According to Antolini, the merging of the boards would be like using a flat head screwdriver on a Phillips head screw. 

“What happens when you do that?” Antolini asked. “You mar it, you damage it, you render it useless. My constituency, my osteopathic brethren, have grave concerns about what happens to the osteopathic profession, which is distinctly different from the MD counterparts who I respect, and I respect the proponents of this bill I work with them every day, and so merging these two boards right now, given the wording and the impact that this bill has, will do irreparable harm to the osteopathic profession in this state which is, right now, held in high regard.” 

He requested that members of the legislature consider conducting a study to include all stakeholders and look at other models. 

“This is happening very quickly,” Antolini stated. “I don’t know why. I can’t speak to that, but this bill has moved very fast, as I understand, and this is not the environment I am familiar with, but what I hear is that the expeditious nature, which this bill has gone through, is alarming and DOs want a seat at the table to influence where we go now.” 

Antolini noted that it would not cost the state any money to continue with a Board of Osteopathic Medicine, as it is self-funded. 

Antolini then spoke to this bill’s possible effect on WVSOM. 

“We are doing this with the backdrop of large corporations taking over smaller communities and hospitals,” Antolini said. “The similar creep that is occurring could also impact the school 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.” 

Antolini said that “diminishing the osteopathic profession may be considered hostile by my constituency, and they are certainly free to vote with their feet and their dollars.” 

Upon continued discussion, Antolini was asked to answer a direct question regarding the bill’s “specific” effect on his scope of work, not using words such as “might,” “could” or “maybe.” 

After a pause, Antolini was prevented from discussing the issue further. 

The bill is now being considered by the full House.

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