Wednesday, April 20, 2005

California Oral Surgeons Push to Perform Elective Plastic Surgery

In a redux of a turf war from last year's California legislative session, California Oral Surgeons have sponsored legislation allowing them licensure to perform elective plastic surgery.

California Senate Bill 438 would give those practitioners the option of applying for a permit to do elective facial cosmetic procedures. The state's dental board would be responsible for granting the permits, based on the surgeon's education, training and experience.

Track the bill status here.

The Bakersfield Californian (free registration required) has the story here:

SACRAMENTO -- Bakersfield Republican Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy and the ultra-liberal, openly lesbian senator from San Francisco, Carole Migden, are usually on opposite sides of the political fence.

That's why it was odd to see them holding a news conference Monday to announce they were teaming up as co-sponsors of a bill.

But in this case they have something in common.

The bill is eagerly sought by the dental profession, which has become one of the biggest sources of campaign contributions to candidates of both parties.

The measure would allow oral surgeons to enter the increasingly lucrative field of elective plastic surgery.

They can do reconstructive surgery now in hospital emergency rooms to repair jaws, teeth and faces damaged by injuries.

The bill would allow them to recruit patients for facelifts and other elective plastic surgery in their offices. That was actually something they could do before 2000. But a rash of plastic surgery patient deaths led health care regulators to impose tighter restrictions.

A nearly identical bill was passed by the Legislature last year, but vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He said it should await a state study of oral surgeons' qualifications for the procedure and the need for the bill. The study is due Aug. 31.

The bill is the latest in what has become an almost annual battle by one branch of a profession to increase the scope of its practice. That is often seen as a economic threat to another branch.

The oral surgeon bill, supported chiefly by the California Dental Association and a separate group of oral surgeons, is bitterly opposed by the California Medical Association and plastic surgeons.

At the news conference, Migden and McCarthy said the bill would increase competition and give consumers more choices when they seek care.

"This is a common-sense bill, a bipartisan issue," said McCarthy, who is the leader and chief fund-raiser for Republicans in the Assembly.

Migden, who is close to the Senate's Democratic leader, Don Perata, called it "an unreasonable restriction" that oral surgeons can no longer do in their offices what they do in emergency rooms.

The policy issue, however, could hardly be separated from the political climate.

The California Dental Association was the biggest single source of money for legislative campaigns in the 2002 election, according to an analysis by Common Cause. It gave $1.5 million.

Its donations increased to about $2 million for last year's election, reports show. Although no similar analysis has been done for that year, the dental group was clearly one of the biggest givers.

It carefully donated about equally to both parties.

The California Medical Association has been at the top of the list in some years in the past but for last year's elections, it trailed well behind the dentists, reporting less than $270,000.

After the news conference, the issue was rehashed in a hearing by the Senate's committee on professions.

Physicians and other physician representatives argued that the bill would be a step backward in health care protection.

The committee did not vote, but hostile questions to the physicians from members of both parties made it clear they plan to send the bill to the governor again.

So, another bill regarding dentistry that both parties will milk for campaign cash. Flap wonders if the Governator who is under pressure to finance his reform special election this Fall will join in the MILKING process.

Flap's guess is that campaign cash will soon start to flow on dentistry v. medicine redux 2005.

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