Bill to curb errant doctors’ drug-prescribing rights is likely dead

Jan 31, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on January 31, 2012:

Bill to curb errant doctors’ drug-prescribing rights is likely dead

By Christine Jordan Sexton

A measure aimed at blocking medical doctors suspected of breaking the law from prescribing drugs — a bill staunchly opposed by the powerful Florida Medical Association — appears dead for the session.

Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Port St. Lucie and chairwoman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, temporarily passed HB 1143 on Tuesday. Harrell, who is the wife of a doctor, also announced she expected no additional committee meetings for the year.

The legislation would allow the state to suspend or restrict via an emergency order the ability of a physician to prescribe controlled substances if the doctor has been arrested or is under criminal investigation.

The Senate companion bill, SB 594 sponsored by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, has been moving, but not without lengthy debate. The likely defeat of the House bill could make it hard for Storms to move her bill further in the Senate.

The measure would have allowed the Department of Health to block doctors and dentists from prescribing level II through level IV controlled substances, which includes drugs such as codeine and hydrocodone.

The department maintained that the bill was necessary because it takes upward of 20 days to convene a probable cause panel to take action against a provider.  All the while, the doctor continues to practice.

Department of Health spokeswoman Ryan Wiggins said the department was disappointed the bill wasn’t heard.

 “The bill would have provided the Department of Health with more necessary tools to combat the prescription drug abuse problem facing our state and would have added additional protection for Floridians from unscrupulous practitioners. This issue remains a top priority for the surgeon general and he will continue to use the tools currently at our disposal to fight for the health of Floridians,’’ Wiggins said.

Rebecca O’Hara, Florida Medical Association’s vice president of governmental affairs,  testified this month that the bill would give government too much power while stripping providers of their due process rights.

She said the bill gave an appointed bureaucrat “a very, very broad grant authority to affect somebody’s professional ability to practice.”
In a prepared statement released on Tuesday, O’Hara said the FMA opposed the bill because it, “assumed that physicians are guilty until proven innocent, and that’s not how our judicial system works.”

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