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Committee votes against reappointing medical board chair

Committee votes against reappointing medical board chair

Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information about Wasserman’s previous stint on the Medical Examining Board at 4:50 p.m., Oct. 5, 2023. 

The Senate Committee on Health voted Wednesday to recommend against Senate confirmation of Dr. Sheldon Wasserman to the Medical Examining Board, where he currently serves as chair.

However, Wasserman, an OB-GYN doctor in Milwaukee and former state legislator, plans to stay on the board even if the full Senate votes to reject his reappointment.

Wasserman was confirmed by the Senate in 2019 in a 27-6 vote. Lawyers have told him that if he is not confirmed again, he can still remain on the board as long as the governor wants him to or unless he resigns.

“I will not resign,” Wasserman said Thursday. “I’ve been told the governor will continue backing me. And unless a different legal evidence comes up that says I have to be removed from the board, I’m going to stay on the board until the time comes when we have a new governor and my time is up.”

Wasserman received a public hearing last week before the committee, where Republican senators questioned him on abortion and the board’s role in penalizing doctors for prescribing drugs for treating COVID-19 that did not follow federal guidelines. The committee on Wednesday failed to recommend confirmation of Wasserman on a 2-4 vote by paper ballot, with all four GOP members on the committee voting against him.

“During the public hearing, Dr. Wasserman referred to the Medical Examining Board as an ‘activist’ board, targeting physicians and other medical professionals alike,” committee Chair Sen. Rachael Cabral-Guevara, R-Appleton, said in a statement. “The right thing to do was to stand with the patients of Wisconsin and vote ‘no’ on Dr. Wasserman’s appointment.”

Wasserman said Cabral-Guevera mischaracterized his comments. During his public hearing, he said the board has had a “change of heart” in recent years, after being ranked low in terms of disciplining doctors.

“Our board is very — I think the word activist can be used and construed in different ways — but we’re a board that really takes action in protecting the citizens of Wisconsin,” he said. “And I’m very proud of it.”

On Thursday, Wasserman said the committee’s action was “precedent-setting” and that the committee has “become a political body, just rejecting people for their beliefs and their thoughts, rather than their credentials.”

“It doesn’t matter if we’re protecting citizens in the state of Wisconsin from bad doctors,” he said. “All the Senate Health Committee cares about is pro-life, abortion and COVID. And that’s very sad.”

He’s been confirmed by the Senate three previous times, previously serving on the board for four-and-a-half years after being appointed by former Gov. Jim Doyle. Wasserman noted that the board was recently recognized as being eighth in the country when it comes to taking action against doctors who endanger patients.

The committee’s actions, including its questioning of a fellow board member on Wednesday, will make it difficult to recruit quality physicians to serve on the board, putting patients at risk, he said.

The committee on Wednesday voted to recommend confirmation of Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Kirsten Johnson 5-1, with Sen. André Jacque, R-De Pere, voting no. Dr. Clarence Chou, vice chair of the Medical Examining Board, also received a 5-1 vote, with Jacque against his reappointment. All other appointments taken up Wednesday passed with unanimous support.

This article first appeared in the Wisconsin Health News daily email newsletter. Sign up for your free trial here.


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