For the second time in two weeks, a Republican lawmaker has hinted that Tennessee’s main medical licensing board could be dismantled amid an ongoing dispute over the council’s efforts to discipline doctors who disseminate misinformation on coronavirus vaccines.
The Board of Forensic Pathologists unanimously passed a policy in September establishing that doctors who spread vaccine lies could have their medical licenses suspended or revoked. Last week, board members voted to remove the policy from their website – but not to rescind the policy itself – to appease a powerful lawmaker.
The question arose again on Wednesday at a hearing of the Joint Committee on Government Operations, which exercises some authority over the medical board. During the hearing, several lawmakers requested more information on how board members define disinformation.
But only one board member was present, so no response was immediately available. Instead, Elizabeth Foy, a Department of Health lawyer who represented the council, said she would check with council members.
“I would be happy to report this to the Medical Examiner’s Board and determine if they have an interest in defining this specifically,” Foy said.
This response touched a sensitive point in a legislator.
“I’m probably not the only one here who is extremely offended by this response about seeing if the board has an interest in bringing this definition back,” said committee member representative Kent Calfee, R-Kingston.
“I think the president has a request that it be referred to him in writing. I don’t think it’s up to the board to decide… And I for one will remember that comment when you get up for the sunset, ”Calfee added, leaning back in her chair and shaking. the head.
Calfee was referring to the council’s upcoming “sunset hearing,” which is a legislative process that assesses the possibility of dissolving government agencies or boards every few years. Hearings are designed as built-in security for outdated or redundant government entities, but are sometimes used by lawmakers to pressure agencies with the possibility of disbandment.
The board of medical examiners is expected to face a sunset hearing in 2022, likely in the first half of the year.
Calfee, reached on his cell phone after Wednesday’s hearing, said he had raised the possibility of dissolving the board to make it clear members should take lawmakers’ demand for a definition of disinformation. Calfee said he didn’t necessarily plan to vote to end the board at the next sunset hearing.
“If that’s their attitude, I’ll definitely remember it when it comes to sunset,” Calfee said. “Now I’m not saying I would vote to shut them down.”
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The medical board has sought to discipline doctors who have propagated COVID-19 conspiracy theories
The Board of Forensic Pathologists, which is responsible for the licensing and discipline of physicians throughout Tennessee, unanimously approved its disinformation policy in September.
The policy, a single paragraph written to reflect the position of the Federation of State Medical Boards, established that physicians have an “ethical and professional responsibility” to share factual information about coronavirus vaccines and could face consequences if they didn’t.
In September, board members also called on the health ministry to investigate doctors who spread misinformation to patients or to social media, prioritizing extreme cases involving conspiracy theories, far-fetched lies or false allegations that were easily refutable.
Lawmakers have responded with three bills prohibiting the council from disciplining doctors for how they treat or what they say about the coronavirus. The spirit of these bills was eventually incorporated into a new law stating that the board could not discipline COVID-19 disinformation without the prior approval of the Joint Government Operations Committee.
Representative John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, who co-chairs this committee, insists that even before the new law, the board did not have the power to create its own disinformation policy. He sent three letters asking the council to remove the policy from its website – which Ragan says voids the policy – but the council took no action.
Eventually, Ragan threatened to dissolve the board entirely if the policy was not removed, according to a letter sent to board members by a Department of Health lawyer and obtained by The Tennessean.
Ragan told the Tennessean he had no recollection of making such a threat and insisted he did not have the power to dissolve the board on his own.
“I’m flattered that you and them think I have so much power.” I can’t do this on my own, ”Ragan told the Tennessean last week. “However, it is up to the General Assembly, acting through the government operations committee, to dissolve them if we wish.”
At the committee hearing on Wednesday, two Nashville-area doctors – Dr Amy Gordon Bono and Dr Katrina Green – attempted to make public comments against lawmakers who micromanage the medical board, but Ragan shut the two down. comments insisting that they were not directly related to the committee’s agenda.
Ragan allowed a comment from a third doctor, Dr Kristen Miller of Memphis, who asked how doctors were supposed to follow the medical council’s disinformation policy if it was no longer online and publicly available.
“It’s difficult for even a long-time medical practitioner in the state of Tennessee, let alone someone unfamiliar with these regulations in our state, to know what the definition of COVID-19 misinformation is,” Miller said.
Brett Kelman is the medical journalist for the Tennessean. He can be reached at 615-259-8287 or at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @brettkelman.