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Consumer Confidential: California faces a doctor shortage. But doctors just derailed a plan to fix it

David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

California lawmakers had a chance Thursday to vote on ensuring that all the state's residents get the healthcare they need. Instead of rising to the occasion, they punted.

No, the matter at hand wasn't a single-payer bill to provide universal coverage, although that would be a good thing too.

Rather, the California Assembly Appropriations Committee decided to put off a vote until next year on a bill that would expand the ability of nurse practitioners to treat patients.

Such a move would go a long way toward addressing a severe shortage of primary-care doctors and would align us with other states that have adopted similar measures.

The legislation -- AB 890 -- shouldn't be controversial, but killing or weakening it has become a top priority for the California Medical Assn., doctors' main trade group.

"The California Medical Assn. has been very successful at pushing this back over many, many years," said Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), who is a dentist and the author of AB 890. "They've been organizing their doctors and lobbying heavily against it."

 

He told me he's tried to work with the group to craft legislation that addresses their concerns. But the talks haven't been productive.

Wood said he met in February with the association's top brass and asked for evidence -- studies, surveys, whatever -- showing why expanding the scope of nurse practitioners' medical capabilities is a bad idea.

"I'm still waiting," Wood said. "They haven't produced anything."

Maybe that's because all the doctors have are vague warnings about creation of a two-tier healthcare system in which wealthier Californians are treated by highly trained physicians and everyone else has to settle for nurse practitioners, which the medical association suggests would be a risk to life and limb.

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