House subcommittee passes bill authorizing the Surgeon General to restrict the license of doctors who over-prescribe narcotics

January 17, 2012.  Today, the House Health & Human Services Quality Subcommittee passed a bill aimed at giving the Surgeon General more power to stop doctors who over-prescribe narcotics, but only after a rewrite removing the word “suspension” — a compromise worked out between the Florida Medical Association and  Department of Health.

Under the rewritten version of HB 1143 the DOH will have discretion to suspend or restrict the license if there is evidence that the public could otherwise be harmed.

The bill further provides that after the emergency restriction on prescribing is issued, the restriction would still have to be reviewed by a Department of Health “probable-cause panel.”  The “probable-cause panel”  has 20 days to uphold the order. This is currently the first step for a medical provider when facing suspension or restriction on a license.

The new bill follows Florida’s  Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, created in 2011 to tighten regulations on pain-management clinics and authorize the creation of a database containing information from pharmacists on scripts for controlled drugs being dispensed. Since its launch in October, E-FORCSE (Electronic Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation) has reportedly amassed more than 21 million records.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Fred Costello said “[t]he goal is to come up with something that gives the Department of Health and the surgeon general the ability to make sure all prescribers out there understand what is available to the department if they choose to prescribe unethically, illegally, criminally and killing people from it.”

Critics of the bill believe it lacks procedural safeguards ans robs doctors of their Constitutional due process protections.

Based on our client census, we have noted that the DOH’s use of emergency license suspensions has been on the rise over the past couple years.  The DOH reportedly issued 326 emergency suspensions in FY 2010-2011, and we presume this number increased significantly for FY 2011-2012.  Giving the DOH discretionary authority to suspend or restrict the license of a health care practitioner who is arrested for over-prescribing narcotics may not be enough to protect physicians from the agency’s overuse of emergency suspensions.

For more information on emergency orders to suspend or restrict a license, or other licensing issues, please contact Rafael A. Gaitan, Esq. Mr. Gaitan is an experienced health care attorney who has defended several physician before the DOH and the Board of Medicine on licensing issues, including emergency suspensions and restrictions.