Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary: Act 13 Won’t Muzzle Doctors

For a more detailed look on what the legislation actually says, click here.

The president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society has put out a statement on the new impact fee, Act 13, which contains language requiring doctors to sign nondisclosure forms, if they’re given proprietary information about chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing.

Critics have called this a gag order on doctors, though the authors of the bill say the accusation is unfounded.

The Medical Society says Governor Corbett’s Health Secretary, Eli Avila, has assured them the language will not prevent doctors from sharing information with their patients or other medical professionals. Here’s Avila’s full statement to the group:

“Inherent in [physicians’] right to receive this [proprietary] information is the ability to share the information with the patient, with other physicians, and providers including specialists assisting and involved with the care of the patient.  Further, reporting and information sharing with public health and regulatory agencies such as the Department of Health is necessary and permitted. In short, the information can be utilized in whatever manner is necessary to respond to the ‘medical needs asserted’ by the health care professional.”

You can read the Medical Society’s full release after the jump:

Pennsylvania’s new law regulating unconventional wells that use hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas has understandably raised some very important questions among physicians, especially those whose medical practices are located in the heart of this burgeoning industry.

As physicians, our first priority is the health of our patients.  We applaud the Corbett administration and the legislature for enacting a law that forces natural gas drillers to publicly disclose the chemicals they use as part of the hydraulic fracturing process.  More importantly, language in Act 13 demonstrates their concern for public safety by empowering physicians, when they need to treat patients, with the ability to obtain from drilling companies “proprietary chemical compounds” not otherwise publicly disclosed.

We appreciate Speaker of the House Sam Smith’s recent statement that the language in Act 13 will not interfere with a physician’s ability to appropriately treat patients, and will in fact facilitate that process.  While PAMED agrees that Act 13’s disclosure language is as strong as any in the nation, we also reached out to the Corbett administration to clarify physicians’ confidentiality obligations under the new law with respect to proprietary information disclosed to them for treatment purposes.

Corbett administration officials, along with the Department of Health responded quickly to our query.  In a letter to PAMED President Marilyn Heine, Secretary of Health Eli Avila explained:

“Inherent in [physicians’] right to receive this [proprietary] information is the ability to share the information with the patient, with other physicians, and providers including specialists assisting and involved with the care of the patient.  Further, reporting and information sharing with public health and regulatory agencies such as the Department of Health is necessary and permitted. In short, the information can be utilized in whatever manner is necessary to respond to the ‘medical needs asserted’ by the health care professional.”

We are gratified by the strong public assurances from the Department of Health, Speaker Smith and House Majority leader Mike Turzai that their intent in drafting the law was for physicians to be able to speak freely with their patients, other health care providers involved in the care of their patients, and appropriate public health officials.  Those statements clearly demonstrate their commitment to the health and welfare of all Pennsylvanians.

As the unconventional gas drilling industry matures in Pennsylvania, and our understanding of this technology evolves, we’re confident that the administration and legislature will continue to be responsive to physicians’ concerns for protecting patient health and preserving the patient-physician relationship.

Comments

  • Dontreprintcampaignpromises

    Hey Scott:  If you want to make this site relevant, how researching these issues instead of just publishing a press release?  For example, how about interviewing some doctors to see how they feel?  Maybe even talking to lawyers to see what specific types of protections doctors and patients can expect under the law?  Or possibly finding out what types of damages a gas company could seek against a doctor?

    Maybe the PAMED is satisfied by these “assurances”, but if you’re just going to take a Corbett administration officials word for it, then this “news” service is more of a disservice.   

    • Scott Detrow

       Is your problem that I posted a group’s statement, or that it was a statement you disagreed with?

      If you look at the site, you’ll see we’ve written numerous – probably hundreds – of posts about the impact fee and its implications. We’ve talked to doctors and lawyers, too. You can read all of those articles here: https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/tag/impact-fee/

      The point of the StateImpact site it to gather every relevant story about Pennsylvania’s energy economy. A statement from a major medical group falls into that category.

      Thanks for reading.

  • Dontreprintcampaignpromises

    Scott,

    I was about to write a tirade about how you should have adopted some of the tactics Susan Phillips applied in her article this morning ( http://bit.ly/HVFuHu ).  However, I see that you seem to have already done this in your article from later this afternoon ( http://bit.ly/HSQZlF ).  That was all I was looking for.  The full text bill language, some facts, and some context.  I’m sure you will develop and refine this story in the coming days.

    As a journalist, you are the filter that gets to decided what enters the news hole. I have a real problem with journalists who reprint press releases (from any group) without calling into question any of the assertions made within them.   I have heard enough unquestioned lies from all sides of this issue.  The last thing needed in this debate is a press release from two partisan entities.

    Here is a perfect example of why I am so frustrated: taken from a Feb 16th Susan Phillips article ( http://bit.ly/yCYi3e )

    “Dr. Jerome Paul­son, pro­fes­sor of pedi­atrics & pub­lic health
    at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity, says the law runs counter to
    med­ical ethics.

    “All of the oaths (of the med­ical
    pro­fes­sion) require us to work for the good of the pub­lic in
    addi­tion to the indi­vid­ual patients,” said Paul­son in a phone
    inter­view. “So block­ing our abil­ity to col­lect and share
    infor­ma­tion, or make the col­lec­tion and shar­ing of infor­ma­tion
    more cum­ber­some, means we won’t be able to ful­fill our
    responsibilities.”

    But the governor’s energy exec­u­tive, Patrick Hen­der­son, says
    peo­ple like Paul­son are “either mis­in­formed or inten­tion­ally
    mis-leading people.””

    The article fails to provide any indication of who is actually right and who is wrong.  I understand that this is an extremely nuanced issue that lacks black and white answers, but can you provide no factual or contextual basis for me to pass judgement beyond two or three partisans yelling at each other?  Do you understand why after reading an article like this I have gained little other than recycled talking points and an elevated blood pressure level?  This kind of “he said” “she said” reporting is not only unproductive, its actually counterproductive to people trying to understand what will actually occur under Act 13.

    I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt so that you don’t lose this reader, but reprinting press releases is the lowest form of information dissemination.  The “he said” “she said” story is only marginally better due to the fact that the other side gets to yell back.

    Thanks,
    Concerned 

    • Scott Detrow

       Thanks for writing back. You do raise some important points. Can you send me an email at sdetrow@stateimpact.org? I’d like to continue the conversation with you offline.

    • Susan Phillips

      Dear Concerned, This is a blog, so we try for a blend of longer more analytical pieces as well as short updates that point readers toward other sources, some primary, some secondary. We broke this story with an interview of several doctors back in February.  It’s a new law, and lawyers, lawmakers and doctors disagree on its implications. We are reporting on new developments to the story as it unfolds.

      Susan Phillips

  • J M Evans PhD

    The language of the law is:
    § 3222.1.(10)  A vendor, service company or operator shall identify the specific identity and amount of any chemicals claimed to be a trade secret or confidential proprietary information to any health professional who requests the information in writing if the health professional executes a confidentiality agreement and provides a written statement of need for the information indicating all of the following:
    (i)  The information is needed for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment of an individual.
    (ii)  The individual being diagnosed or treated may have been exposed to a hazardous chemical.
    (iii)  Knowledge of information will assist in the diagnosis or treatment of an individual.
    (11)  If a health professional determines that a medical emergency exists and the specific identity and amount of any chemicals claimed to be a trade secret or confidential proprietary information are necessary for emergency treatment, the vendor, service provider or operator shall immediately disclose the information to the health professional upon a verbal acknowledgment by the health professional that the information may not be used for purposes other than the health needs asserted and that the health professional shall maintain the information as confidential. The vendor, service provider or operator may request, and the health professional shall provide upon request, a written statement of need and a confidentiality agreement from the health professional as soon as circumstances permit, in conformance with regulations promulgated under this chapter.This language raises many questions among which are:1. Can a medical doctor obtain malpractice insurance if this language is strictly adhered to?2. Is the patient somehow bound by the confidentiallity agreement signed by the doctor?3. The privacy of health records is already covered under HIPPA.  Are additional confidentiality agreements necessary or even in conflict with existing law?The courts generally make decisions based on the language of the law rather than an administrative interpretation of the law.  Our administration’s “Not to worry” comment is of little solace.

  • Angelo S

    ~ In this Corporatocracy the citizens come last.
    ~ The government will look you in the eye and lie.
    ~ But just bring a suit for damages and watch how fast the corporate lawyers pull this provision out of their hats and slip through the court with the judges blessing.
    ~ You’d have to be brain dead not to see the crime in this Act 13 written by corporate lobbyists and put into the puppet politicians’ hands to pass.
    ~ They passed it once!
    ~ They are criminal accomplices to the corporations.
    ~ Screw the Constitution, Right?

  • http://www.water-research.net/ Brian Oram

    We agree -we spoke to the authors over a year ago – suggested only a clarification or the addition of a direct statement to this conclusion so it can not be misinterpreted.

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