Florida Legislators Vote to Extend Protections for Health Care Providers

By Nanette Holt
Nanette Holt
Nanette Holt
Nanette Holt oversees a team of Epoch Times reporters focused mainly on family issues and Florida politics. The team works to illuminate topics such as the fight to restore parents’ rights in schools, the push to teach young children about gender ideology, and critical race theory and Marxist teachings on college campuses. When not chasing news, she enjoys cattle ranch life with her family and visits hospitals and nursing homes with her miniature horse, Cinnabon.
February 10, 2022Updated: February 10, 2022

Florida legislators voted Feb. 10 to extend a law making it difficult to sue health care providers for issues related to COVID-19. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis in what looks likely to be its last step in becoming a law. 

Florida is one of 29 states across the country to enact laws shielding medical professionals from liability related to COVID-19. All 50 state governors were urged to put the protections in place by the federal government shortly after the pandemic began nearly two years ago, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

The Florida bill would extend the expiration date of Florida Statute 768.381 through June 1, 2023. Under that legislation, health care providers still can face lawsuits. But to prevail, plaintiffs have to prove “that the health care provider was grossly negligent or engaged in intentional misconduct.”

And that makes it practically impossible to sue medical providers, which can lower the standard of care, attorneys concerned about the measure told The Epoch Times.

Republican lawmakers, who control the Legislature, said the measure protects Floridians by helping to keep needed health care facilities in business, by protecting them from unfair and expensive claims. The original law, which passed last year, was set to expire in March.

Now, Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, a Republican, can decide the bill’s fate. And that may be a difficult choice.

Epoch Times Photo
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to reporters about the need to boost hospitalized patients’ rights at a press conference at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., on Feb. 2, 2022. (Natasha Holt/The Epoch Times)

DeSantis, who is up for reelection in November, can sign the Republican-led legislation, and the extension of the law would go into effect immediately.

But in doing so, he risks enraging a contingent of conservative Floridians, who’ve decried hospital behavior in the treatment of COVID-19 at medical freedom rallies throughout the state.

He could veto the bill, but that would pit him against his party. And the Legislature still could override his veto with a two-thirds vote. 

If DeSantis chooses to do nothing, the bill quietly will become a law without his signature after seven days. DeSantis’s office has declined to comment on the extension of the bill, and, instead, has pointed to other hospital-related issues he’s asked legislators to tackle.

But with just one full week left for committees to consider bills in this year’s legislative session, there’s no time for new legislation to be introduced, says Stephen Cain, a board member of the Florida Justice Association, and a malpractice attorney with the Miami law firm of Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain.

DeSantis has said he wants lawmakers to boost patients’ rights, especially when it comes to making sure they can have family members visit.

And he’s urged legislators to add protections for physicians using their best judgement to practice medicine, including prescribing drugs already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for off-label uses.

“Physicians in Florida should be able to practice medicine and express opinions without facing sanctions simply because they are not parroting the prevailing ‘narrative,’” DeSantis wrote in a Feb. 4 tweet. “The Florida Legislature is contemplating legislation to protect the licensure and board certifications of physicians from sanction along these lines, and I support this effort.”

That would allow doctors to prescribe drugs, such as ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine, in the treatment of COVID-19. Some doctors around the country have lost their licenses to practice medicine or have been threatened with loss of licensure as punishment for prescribing those FDA-approved drugs.

Legislation to provide that protection DeSantis wants for physicians would be in conflict with the bill lawmakers in Florida just voted to extend.

The near-immunity for health care providers in the extended bill comes with a stipulation that the provider exercised “substantial compliance with government-issued health standards specifically relating to COVID-19 or other relevant standards.”

And that’s a huge part of the problem, says Florida attorney Jeff Childers, a speaker at the Defeat the Mandates medical-freedom rally in January in Washington, D.C.

Childers was part of a team of attorneys scrambling to persuade Mayo Clinic Florida to consider other treatments for a grandfather on a ventilator, after all goverrnment-approved protocols failed. After the man’s family filed a lawsuit asking the courts to intervene, an outside doctor testified that non-approved treatments still could save Dan Pisano.

Mayo Clinic attorneys fought vigorously to block the treatments, which included ivermectin and other drugs and supplements that are part of a protocol developed by the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance and widely used by independent doctors. 

The courts denied the Pisano family’s request for emergency help, then denied it again on appeal. Dan Pisano, 70, died after 36 days in the hospital.

“Florida legislators should be outraged,” Childers said Feb. 10, as lawmakers appeared ready to vote “yes” to the bill.

They were duped, he said, by a flier to House Republicans from House Majority Leader Michael Grant stating that the bill benefits “all Floridians, because we rely on health care providers and long-term care facilities to care for us.”

The flier summarizing the bill also states, “The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, and health care providers still deserve protection from overreaching lawsuits. They are on the front line—they must not only care for themselves but also for potentially vulnerable patients and residents. They have done so day in and day out for the past two years, often without adequate PPE [personal protective equipment] and while experiencing staffing shortages and even the guidance on treatment and disease prevention has constantly evolved.”

That explanation infuriates Childers and other attorneys who spoke with The Epoch Times.

Before the vote, legislators “were provided a one-page summary of the bill that outrageously claims that patients are the ones intended to benefit because the bill helps keep hospitals open,” Childers fumed. “I wish they could ask my deceased client Dan Pisano about how he ‘benefitted.’”

It’s clear now why hospitals only will agree to follow treatment protocols for COVID-19 that have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Childers said. Otherwise, they could lose their immunity from lawsuits.

In only following government protocols for the treatment of COVID-19, hospitals ignore studies that show other drugs work well to defeat the disease, even after other treatments have failed, said Childers, who has been an enthusiastic fund raiser for DeSantis. He’s calling for DeSantis to veto the bill. 

Epoch Times Photo
Florida attorney Jeff Childers in his Gainesville office on Oct. 12, 2021. (Amber Dorn/The Epoch Times)

In their analysis to help guide lawmakers in their voting, Florida House staffers wrote that, by limiting lawsuits against health care providers, the measure could “reduce the need for jury trials and may have a positive fiscal impact on the state courts system.”

Additionally, staffers wrote, the law “provides immunities and processes that may reduce the financial risk of health care providers and long-term care facilities for negligence related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Extending its application may increase the likelihood that these providers and facilities will remain solvent through the pendency of the pandemic.”

In 2020, 16 states enacted laws limiting health-care providers’ liability with regard to COVID-19, according to analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Those were Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. They were joined by Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, NCSL records show.

In 2021, Florida and 12 more states passed legislation limiting medical liability. They were Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

The details of each state’s legislation differ. Florida’s bill is “problematic” and “troubling,” Cain said.

“Folks are very frustrated about just how broad this immunity is. And it … doesn’t just cover COVID claims. It covers any claims that may arise out of COVID. ‘Related to COVID’ was the definition that was used in the bill.

“So if you go into a hospital for COVID, and there’s a medication error that results in your death,” Cain said, the standard for proving the hospital was liable would be “almost impossible.”