MADISON – Doctors and hospital leaders are pushing back against a Republican legislative effort aimed at barring health care providers from withholding unproven treatments for COVID-19.
A package of three bills released Wednesday would prevent health systems and medical credentialing boards from disciplining doctors for ordering or advocating for therapies or medicine for patients that go against medical opinions held by their employers or regulators.
The proposals also would force pharmacists to fill all prescriptions ordered by doctors except in rare circumstances.
Daniel Koster, a family medicine physician in Green Bay, said at a press conference in the Wisconsin State Capitol on Wednesday that the bill is needed because within the last year, a pharmacist refused to fill a prescription he wrote for ivermectin.
The package of legislation is aimed at allowing doctors and pharmacists to provide COVID-19 patients with drugs that have not been proven to be safe treatments for such infections, such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.
“Many continue to speculate as to the exact reasons why the efforts of these health care professionals have been actively suppressed by those who have assumed the responsibility of dictating the response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said a memo to colleagues from Republican Reps. Shae Sortwell of Two Rivers, Dave Murphy of Greenville, Elijah Behnke of Oconto, Rachael Cabral-Guevara of Appleton, Clint Moses of Menomonie, Donna Rozar of Marshfield, Chuck Wichgers of Muskego and Sen. Duey Stroebel of the Town of Cedarburg.
“Regardless of the forces behind this troubling trend, (the legislation) seeks to reverse the unprecedented level of interference with the physician-patient relationship that has been witnessed over the past two years, whether it pertains to the treatment of COVID-19 or other diseases.”
Medical Society of Wisconsin board chairman Jerry Halverson said the bills could “undermine basic safeguards” in place to ensure patients receive safe and effective care.
“As the state’s largest physician organization, we very carefully listen to our members to make sure there’s no undue interference with a physician providing appropriate care for their patients,” Halverson, who is a medical doctor, said in a statement.
“So rather than potentially harming our state’s high quality health care system, we ask our government policymakers to help physicians and their health care teams: encourage vaccinations, promote smart behaviors and help us emerge from this pandemic as soon as possible.”
The Wisconsin Hospital Association said each facility is required to have a team of medical staff, not administrators, that grants provider privileges and oversees the quality of patient care.
“The idea that hospital administrators, not physicians, are making medical decisions is false,” the association said in a statement provided by a spokesman.
“This legislation removes the most fundamental tool hospitals use to ensure safe patient care through medical staff governance and privileging. This legislation circumvents an existing evidence-based process medical staff within a hospital use to maximize the health and safety of the patients and communities they serve.”
The legislation picks up on a cause championed by the state’s top Republican politician, U.S. Ron Johnson, who has criticized national health leaders for not supporting repurposed therapies for early COVID-19 interventions.
Johnson specifically has touted the use of ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug some have used as as an early treatment for COVID-19 despite warnings from public health experts that it is unproven as a remedy and can be dangerous in large doses.
Johnson last month convened a panel at the U.S. Capitol of scientists and doctors who have been criticized for expressing skepticism about COVID-19 vaccines and promoting the use of unproven medications for early treatment of the disease.