TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida bill proposed in December seeks to protect doctors, nurses and other health care workers from potentially losing their licenses by making it illegal for health departments or medical boards to remove licenses over free speech.
A group of Florida physicians, the Committee to Protect Health Care, spoke out Monday to voice opposition to the bill on the grounds that it would allow medical workers to “spread disinformation to continue endangering lives without penalty.”
The legislation in question is House Bill 687, which would prevent boards or departments from reprimanding, sanctioning, revoking or threatening to remove a health professional’s license, certification or registration due to use of free speech, without proving the speech caused medical harm. HB 687 does not explicitly refer to the COVID-19 pandemic, or the polarized position of the medical community to the virus, in its text. However, the bill specifically mentions speech published on social media sites, among others.
Under the proposed legislation, the free speech of a health care practitioner cannot be prohibited, unless the governing body can prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that it led to “direct physical harm of a person with whom the health care practitioner” treated as a patient.
The bill goes further, requiring that the patient had to have been treated a three-year period before the physical harm or harms occurred. Should harm be alleged, a health care practitioner must be given any complaints received within seven days after they are submitted.
Legislative analysis of the bill does not expect a fiscal impact on local governments, but does anticipate a need for 12 full-time employees to implement the bill’s functions, each with a salary of roughly $54,511 per employee. The state analysis estimated the the total cost for the 12 employee salaries would be $654,137 and an additional $147,264 for expenses, as well as $3,661 for human resources needs.
The bill does not specify any or all administrative fines the Florida Dept. of Health would face if it failed to comply with the law, so the analysis said the potential fiscal impact is indeterminate. That said, health care practitioners could potentially face thousands of dollars in costs, based off state estimates of complaints over the past three years, according to the analysis.
The CPHC said physicians ascribe to the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to their patients. The organization alleges that the effect of the law would allow harm to be done.
“All physicians ascribe to the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. Providing harmful recommendations betrays this sacred oath,” CPHC said in a statement. “Just as a medical professional who provides substandard treatment and injures a patient should be held accountable, so should they be responsible for spreading disinformation that could gravely harm those who trust them.”
The group called the bill an attempt by some of the state’s Republican lawmakers, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, to make health care political, with potentially deadly results. CPHC does not refer to COVID-19 in its statement.