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House bill would protect doctors, nurses, pharmacists who defy COVID treatment guidelines

Idaho Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, presents on Feb. 11 to the Idaho House Business Committee, of which she is a member. (Screenshot via Idaho Public Television)
Idaho Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, presents on Feb. 11 to the Idaho House Business Committee, of which she is a member. (Screenshot via Idaho Public Television)

Legislation also says hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities must allow drugs like ivermectin to be prescribed

A bill in the Idaho Legislature would protect the licenses of doctors, nurses and pharmacists who prescribe or dispense unproven medications for COVID-19.

Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, presented the legislation Friday to the House Business Committee.

The committee voted by a voice vote to introduce the bill.

The bill would prohibit licensing boards from taking disciplinary action against doctors, physician assistants and advanced-practice registered nurses when the action is “based solely” on their recommendations to patients regarding COVID-19, including prescribing drugs that are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat the coronavirus disease.

The bill also says pharmacists could not “block or attempt to block” a patient’s access to that unapproved drug. If a pharmacist does not want to dispense the medication, they could direct the patient to a willing pharmacist, the bill says. Pharmacists’ licenses couldn’t be jeopardized by dispensing the drugs, the bill says.

In addition, the bill orders Idaho hospitals, nursing facilities and residential care or assisted living facilities to allow a patient to take the unapproved treatment “if a patient has requested and is prescribed” that drug.

The FDA has approved some drugs for other uses — ivermectin for intestinal parasites, for example — but not for COVID-19. While “off label” prescribing is sometimes done by health care providers for other ailments, the pandemic has made off-label use of ivermectin and other unproven drugs a matter of politics and, now, policy.

What drug prescriptions could the legislation affect?

The FDA has authorized or approved several drugs for COVID-19, including medications that can be taken at home and drugs that can prevent illness.

Health authorities have stressed that using ivermectin for COVID-19 outside of clinical trials is not recommended, because existing research hasn’t shown that it helps, and patients may endanger themselves by relying on it instead of tested prevention and treatment measures, such as vaccination or hospital care.

There are several clinical trials under way to see if ivermectin is actually effective, including a large national trial supported by the National Institutes of Health that makes ivermectin and other drugs available to Idahoans and others. In all, more than 600 clinical trials in the U.S. are in process to evaluate possible COVID-19 treatments and preventions.

Dr. Ryan Cole, a pathologist from Garden City, has spoken publicly about prescribing unproven medications. He is the subject of complaints to the Idaho Board of Medicine. One complaint, by the Idaho Medical Association, called out his prescription practices and his use of telehealth to treat patients, despite working in laboratory medicine, not direct patient care.

Legislation mirrors efforts in other states to shield doctors from discipline

Lawmakers in other states — among them Iowa, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Virginia — have introduced legislation similar to DeMordaunt’s, according to bills tracked by the Federation of State Medical Boards.

As Politico reported earlier this month, only eight doctors in the U.S. have been sanctioned since January 2021 for spreading false information about COVID-19.

No health care providers in Idaho have been formally disciplined for anything related to COVID-19, according to publicly available disciplinary records.

Legislators and the governor of Tennessee changed the law to limit the power of the state’s medical board, in response to its policy on sanctioning doctors over COVID-19 practices, the Tennessee Lookout reported in December.

The bill introduced by DeMordaunt also would clarify that licensing boards cannot consider a health care provider’s vaccination status. (They currently do not.)

DeMordaunt did not immediately respond to a voicemail message Monday afternoon from the Sun.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.