March 20, Wisconsin Health News
Professional groups oppose a move by Gov. Scott Walker to eliminate state boards that regulate optometrists, radiographers and podiatrists as well as consolidate advisory councils and boards that oversee healthcare professions.
Walker's 2017-19 budget would end the Radiography Examining Board, the Podiatry Affiliated Credentialing Board and the Optometry Examining Board and transfer their functions, rules and pending matters to the Medical Examining Board.
The budget would also create a Medical Assistants Council, consolidating advisory councils on physician assistants and others. And it establishes a Medical Therapy Examining Board, ending boards overseeing physical therapists and others.
"Currently, taxpayer dollars are going to provide administrative services to each of the boards that are proposed to be consolidated," Alicia Bork, Department of Safety and Professional Services spokeswoman, wrote in an email. "Merging these functions...will allow efficiencies that cannot be found when separate silos exist."
The combined actions, along with other changes at DSPS, would cut state spending by $50,800 in program revenue over the next two fiscal years, according to the Legislature Fiscal Bureau. There were 1,172 optometrists, 424 podiatrists and 6,994 radiographers with active licenses in Wisconsin as of July 2016.
Peter Theo, executive vice president of the Wisconsin Optometric Association, said his members have "serious concerns" about the proposal as turning regulatory control over to another profession may hurt their ability to diagnose and treat eye diseases.
"Optometrists are primary eye care providers whose regulatory independence is critical to maintaining the high standard of care needed to ensure the safe and competent practice of optometry," he said.
The Wisconsin Podiatric Medical Association raised concerns about not having representation on the Medical Examining Board.
"The Medical Examining Board cannot be expected to keep up with the advances in all of the professions that they are looking to be charged with," Dr. Bob Sage, the association's president, said in a statement. "It is unrealistic."
Sandy Helinski, legislative committee chairperson for the Wisconsin Society of Radiologic Technologists, said the elimination of the Radiography Examining Board, established in 2010, would be an "indisputable step backward in the health of Wisconsin's patients."
"Anything that could possibly dilute the effectiveness of what we've been able to accomplish in these last seven years is of great concern to us," she said.
Connie Kittleson, president of the Wisconsin Physical Therapy Association, opposes eliminating of the Physical Therapy Examining Board and the creation of a Medical Therapy Examining Board.
She noted other states have tried consolidation in the past and have returned to independent boards.
"The data out there shows it doesn't make things more efficient, it doesn't save money," she said. "But more importantly, it wouldn't be worth the risk to public safety to have people who do not have expertise or training in a particular field regulating professionals of another field."
Reid Bowers, Wisconsin Academy of Physician Assistants' advocacy committee chair, raised concerns about the proposed Medical Assistants Council, saying it "would severely limit the ability of PAs to shape how they are regulated by the Medical Examining Board."
At a Medical Examining Board meeting last week, Chair Dr. Kenneth Simons said the budget would put them "in charge of things we have no expertise" in. Others raised similar concerns.
Tom Ryan, the board's executive director, said that the boards put under the authority of the Medical Examining Board meet three to four times a year. Doctors on the board could do "curbside consults," he said.
"I don't think it's as formidable a challenge as you would think," he said.
Mark Grapentine, senior vice president of government relations for the Wisconsin Medical Society, said the Medical Examining Board has to investigate complaints against physicians and regulate the profession.
"If adding these non-medical professions to their duties takes away from that responsibility or makes fulfilling that duty less efficient, it's difficult to divine the upsides to the proposal," he said in a statement.