Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed legislation to allow the California state medical board to discipline doctors who its believes are spreading coronavirus misinformation during direct patient care. Penalties include the possibility of losing or suspending physicians’ medical licenses.
The bill, AB2098, states that any licensed physician or surgeon is committing “unprofessional conduct” if they disseminate “misinformation or disinformation” about the nature and risks of the virus, the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, and the development, safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
However, the law only applies to direct patient care. Doctors who are deemed to have spread misinformation on social media or through the media will not face disciplinary action. This raises the question: what counts as misinformation?
Misinformation is defined in the legislation as “false information that is contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus contrary to the standard of care.”
According to the statute, disinformation is misinformation that is “deliberately disseminated [by a physician or surgeon] with malicious intent or an intent to mislead.”
During Covid outbreaks and peaks physicians were desperate to find any potential treatment against the coronavirus. Indeed, numerous physicians wanted nothing to do with Covid patients. My wife’s primary care physician had a signed informing patients to go to the emergency room if they presented with Covid symptoms. She would not treat them. That was actually quite common. One thing that made Covid deadly was patients were expected to isolate at home with no medical care until they became sick enough to be hospitalized. By then, it was often too late.
A few months into the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020 there were reports from India that health care workers treated prophylactically with hydroxychloroquine were 75% less likely to contract Covid from their patients. There were also anecdotal accounts from the United States and abroad that some patients seemed to get better after having taken Ivermectin tablets. About that time a physician in a suburb near me began to advertise that he would treat Covid patients using all the tools he had available. That was the first time I heard of a local doctor reaching out to Covid patients rather than shunning them. Another Texas physician began treating Covid patients using a nebulizer with asthma medications to bring down inflammation in the lungs of Covid patients. To some degree this was all experimental. Then Covid treatments became political. If you were Republican you supported doctor’s right to prescribe hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin. If you were a Democrat both those medications were a sign of your ignorance. State medical boards began to restrict their use. Some physicians would quietly prescribe Ivermectin while others were afraid to. A Texas physician was called in front of the Texas medical board to explain why she prescribed discredited treatments to her patients.
Dr. Mary Talley Bowden, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist who studied medicine at both the University of Texas and Stanford University, came under fire last year when she promoted Ivermectin and other early treatments for COVID-19 patients. Last November, the Houston Methodist Hospital system publicly announced a suspension of her hospital privileges at their facilities, though she resigned voluntarily.
Since then, three complaints have been filed against Bowden, with the TMB accusing her of unprofessional conduct, practices “inconsistent with public health and welfare,” and “violation of laws connected to the practice of medicine.”
The Houston Chronical even wondered in a headline why Dr. Bowden was “still licensed after using social media to spread COVID-19 misinformation.”
Dr. Bowden’s transgression was prescribing FDA-approved drugs that were being used around the world in a desperate attempt to treat Covid patients. Ordinarily, physicians are free to use any FDA-approved drug off label. That’s how new uses for older drugs are often found. Yet somehow hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin were excluded from that routine practice due to politics.
To stop the federal government from interfering with doctors right to prescribe drugs off label, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) introduced The Right to Treat legislation in early 2022. The goal is to protect doctors, patients and prescribers and doctors right to treat patients without government interference.
The Right to Treat Act S. 3670 will reaffirm that no federal agency has the authority to regulate the practice of medicine and that no federal law, rule, or regulation of policy will prohibit or restrict the lawful prescribing or disbursing of any FDA approved drug or Right to Try drug.
Mike Braun (R-Ind.), a cosponsor said:
“Doctors, not the federal government, know their patients best. It is critical that they have the freedom to prescribe FDA-approved drugs and treatments that are the most appropriate for their patients.”
Another cosponsor, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) said in a written statement:
“The federal government should not dictate individual medical cases. Patients and their doctors should be able to decide the best course of treatment for themselves, and the government shouldn’t foreclose a primary tool of medical innovation. I’m proud to join Senator Johnson in introducing this bill to protect medical freedom.”
Senator Johnson told the Daily Caller:
“The Right to Treat Act would ensure that federal health agencies return to their proper functions of gathering and providing public health data and regulating drug safety – not telling doctors how to practice medicine,” he continued.
Johnson claimed that a large number of people died from COVID-19 due to federal health agencies telling the American people that certain drugs would harm them.