Group of doctors denounce Florida bill that would protect medical workers from censorship and penalties
TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A Florida bill proposed in December aims to protect doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers from the potential loss of their licenses by prohibiting health departments or medical boards from withdrawing freedom of expression licenses.
A group of Florida doctors, the Committee for the Protection of Health Care, spoke out on Monday to express their opposition to the bill on the grounds that it would allow medical workers to “spread misinformation to continue to put lives in danger without penalty”.
The legislation in question is House Bill 687, which would prevent boards or departments from reprimanding, sanctioning, revoking, or threatening to revoke a health professional’s license, certification, or registration because of the use of free speech, without proving that the speech caused medical harm. HB 687 does not explicitly refer to the COVID-19 pandemic, or the medical community’s polarized stance on the virus, in its text. However, the bill specifically mentions speeches posted on social media sites, among other things.
Under the proposed legislation, a health practitioner’s free speech cannot be prohibited unless the governing body can prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that it resulted in “physical harm direct to a person with whom the health care practitioner “has dealt as a patient.
The bill goes further by requiring the patient to have been treated for a period of three years before the physical harm(s) occurred. In the event of an allegation of harm, a healthcare professional must receive any complaint received within seven days of submission.
The legislative analysis of the bill does not expect a fiscal impact on local governments, but forecasts a need for 12 full-time employees to implement the functions of the bill, each with a salary of approximately $54,511 per employee. State analysis estimated that the total salary cost for the 12 employees would be $654,137 and an additional $147,264 for expenses, as well as $3,661 for human resource requirements.
The bill does not specify any or all of the administrative penalties the Florida Department of Health would face if it failed to comply with the law, so the analysis indicates that the potential tax impact is undetermined. That said, healthcare practitioners could potentially face thousands of dollars in costs, based on state estimates of complaints over the past three years, according to the analysis.
The CPHC said doctors subscribe to the Hippocratic oath not to harm their patients. The organization alleges that the effect of the law would cause harm.
“All doctors take the Hippocratic oath to do no harm. Providing harmful recommendations betrays this sacred oath,” the CPHC said in a statement. “Just as a healthcare professional who provides substandard treatment and injures a patient should be held accountable, they should also be held accountable for spreading misinformation that could seriously harm those who trust them.”
The group called the bill an attempt by some of the state’s Republican lawmakers and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to make health care political, with potentially deadly results. The CPHC does not refer to COVID-19 in its statement.