A bill that passed off the House floor Wednesday could make it possible for the Governor to appoint someone without a science background to the top health position in the state.
SB709 broadens the pool of applicants that could be appointed to the Health Commissioner role — saying anyone with a master's degree can now be considered.
House author Lynsay Representative Cindy Rowe said the measure was a request from the State Department of Health.
“If you have an additional person who may be very well qualified to run the agency, and they don’t have the right letters behind their name, then. you may be potentially missing out on a good candidate,” Representative Rower said.
Current requirements ask that candidates be a physician, doctor or have a master's of science.
The Oklahoma State Medical Association supports the bill.
In a statement, OSMA president David Holden says “While this bill makes some updates to the qualification requirements for the Commissioner of Health, it creates a new Chief Medical Officer position to provide medical guidance and expertise to the Commissioner and OSDH leadership.”
Lawmakers across the aisle say the bill is incomplete — even with an additional requirement that candidates must have agency leadership experience.
“No longer do I have to have someone that has a background in medicine, you know, a doctor or an epidemiologist or somebody. they can now, by virtue of being the leader of some small agency, step into the role as the person making the decisions for the medical outcomes for the people of Oklahoma,” said Del City representative Andy Fugate.
Representative Fugate is concerned this change is a part of a longer trend of removing qualified physicians and doctors from oversight of the State Department of Health.
In a statement, the State Department of Health spokes people say: “OSDH maintains a Chief Medical Officer to ensure medical expertise is always integrated into the leadership team, if passed, this bill would make certain that continues.”
The bill passed the House 68 to 20 and is now headed to the Governor’s desk for consideration.