Amid pressure from a Republican lawmaker threatening to dissolve Tennessee’s Board of Medical Examiners, the panel has voted to remove from its website a policy that threatens to formally discipline doctors who spread Covid misinformation.
The board voted 7-3 to take the policy off the site after Republican state Rep. John Ragan sent letters demanding the policy be “promptly delete[d].” An attorney who works with the board, Jennifer Putnam, explained the demand in a letter, writing, “Ragan also made clear he has no qualms above moving forward with dissolving the [Board of Medical Examiners] and reconstituting it with new members. He has in fact done this with another state agency, so it is not a hollow threat.”
In response, the state’s medical licensing board chose to remove the policy from its website, which stated in part that “physicians who generate and spread Covid-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation are risking disciplinary action by state medical board, including the suspension or revocation of their medical license.” The policy was based on language from the Federation of State Medical Boards. Although the board removed the language from their site, the board did not rescind the policy entirely, so it still remains in effect, The Tennessean reported.
This is because the board decided to follow the exact wording of the demand from Ragan, who chairs the House Joint Government Operations Committee. Ragan ordered the board to “promptly delete” its statement on medical misinformation, so that’s what they voted to do — delete it from the website. “If you fail to act promptly, your organization will be required to appear before the Joint Government Operations Committee to explain your inaction,” Ragan wrote to the committee last month, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Tennessee Lookout.
The Tennessean reported that Department of Health attorney Grant Mullins at the meeting expressed concern there was not a precedent for the board keeping a policy that is not also listed on its website. He suggested the board take another vote on whether or not to rescind the policy entirely. “With all due respect Mr. Mullins, we’ve broken new ground … with a lot of things about this,” board member Dr. Stephen Loyd responded, according to the Lookout. “We were asked to take this down. When you are talking about rescinding a policy, or rescinding what our charge is, that’s a totally different vote.”
Tennessee conservatives have attacked government officials who advocated for public health measures during the pandemic. In July, the state fired its top vaccination official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, for writing a letter to medical providers administering vaccines explaining a decades-old state legal mechanism — the Mature Minor Doctrine — that allows providers to vaccinate minors older than 14 without parental consent. This made her a target for conservative lawmakers who demanded her dismissal, including Ragan, who threatened to dissolve the state health department in retaliation.
Fiscus on Wednesday responded to the news that the Board of Medical Examiners deleted its policy on Covid misinformation. “First TN legislature wants to dismantle the state dep[artment] of health for sharing TN law [with] physicians,” she tweeted. “Now it wants to dissolve the board of med[icine] for disciplining docs for spreading disinformation. Pro-Covid, pro-gov’t overreach, anti-science. Embarrassing.”