Is the PAG a PAC?
There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of the NC Physician Advisory Group, but there’s compelling reasons that every North Carolinian should be aware of its activities.
The non-profit group was incorporated in 1997 and given the role as advisor to the Department of Health and Human Services and other public agencies, charged with improving health care for residents of the state, particularly the neediest and most vulnerable. Its role was formalized by the NC General Assembly in 2003: “The Department [of Health and Human Services] shall develop, amend, and adopt medical coverage policy in accordance with the following: During the development of new medical coverage policy or amendment to existing medical coverage policy, consult with and seek advice of the Physician Advisory Group of the North Carolina Medical Society and other organizations the Secretary deems appropriate.”
The law puts the PAG in the position of both advisor and gatekeeper to all new state medical policy – they review all proposed changes and must conduct a second review before policies can be implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Members of this influential, 17-member board are appointed by the Medical Society and include general practitioners, professors of medicine, dentists and more specialized physicians like oncologists and neurologists.
But the PAG keeps offices in Morrisville and is funded by the state – problematic, because the group maintains that its meetings and conference calls where matters of policy are discussed are not open to public scrutiny. Emery Milligan, attorney for the Division of Medical Assistance, ratifies this claim.
“The PAG is not a public body,” Milligan told YES! Weekly.
As such, the group’s board members are not named on its website, confining contact information to a generic e-mail address with no phone number, though a roster of board members and committee chairs was provided to YES! Weekly by the DMA. And the May 22 meeting, for which neither a location nor a written agenda has been publicly posted, remains closed to the public.
Also troubling is the fact that the PAG operates a bit like a PAC: Members of the group have collectively contributed $26,220 to political candidates over the last three election cycles. The NC Medical Society, which oversees the group, raised $710,604 through their PAC over that period of time and employs seven registered lobbyists.
We are of the position that the PAG is operating contrary to state laws, specifically NCGS § 143-318.9-10 and 143-318.12. Mike Tadych, a lawyer with Everett, Gaskins, Hancock & Stevens who gives legal advice for members of the NC Press Association, agrees.
We are also uncomfortable with the PAG’s role in the political and legislative processes, enough so that we want to monitor their discussions and the decisions that arise from them.
And we insist that the group changes its own policies to operate within the mandates of state law.