Fears about the spreading coronavirus infected a long-running squabble between House Speaker José Oliva and Florida’s physician association.
And it’s a fight that quickly turned personal, with one lawmaker’s arrest history feeding the nasty Twitter spat.
The argument occurred as the 2020 Legislative Session winds to a close. The House has already approved “test and treat” legislation allowing flu tests to be administered by pharmacists.
But with the number of coronavirus cases in Florida spiking upward, physicians say this could be the worst time for such a change.
The Florida Medical Association released a statement Tuesday on social media blasting the move to broaden who tests those showing flu symptoms.
“Given the current spread of coronavirus, encouraging potentially infected individuals to visit grocery stores and local pharmacies for medical care and treatment, by individuals not trained to practice medicine, is dangerous and poses an unacceptable risk to the health of ALL Floridians,” the group posted on Twitter.
It’s a move the Speaker quickly dismissed as exploitative.
“It is shameful and unprofessional for a special interest group to attempt to use a potential international pandemic to further a baseless political agenda,” Oliva responded.
“Timely access to high-quality care and the world’s best pharmacists are vital as we fight coronavirus. Thirty states demonstrated that advanced registered nurse practitioners can provide this high-quality care and pharmacists across the country do the same. This statement by the FMA only contributes to unnecessary panic and is as irresponsible as it is wrong.”
Things went downhill from there.
Physicians from across the country started to pile on.
“What’s shameful is a rep who is NOT on the frontlines taking care of patients trying to tell the most highly trained and qualified, physicians, how to change health care in the state,” wrote Dr. Vicki Norton. “Physicians oppose these bills because they are not good for patients. Who is lining your pockets?”
Some accused Oliva of driving an agenda on behalf of the pharmaceutical lobby, some saying he ignored reforms needed on pharmacy benefit management.
Oliva has made free-market health reforms the signature mission of his tenure in the House.
The pharma lobby piped up with its own take on the issue.
“Pharmacists are more than qualified to handle these situations,” reads a post from the Independent Pharmacy Association Southeast account.
“No offence (sic) but RPh (Registered Pharmacists) have much more access and influence on communities than MD (Medical Doctors). Don’t forget, we went to school for 6 years and studied MORE DIVERSE subjects then MD.”
Rep. Cary Pigman, an Avon Park Republican, a physician and the sponsor for other scope of practice bills, also jumped into the fray.
“As an emergency medicine physician what is needed at a moment like this is greater access to quality care-not cheap, self-serving, protectionist rhetoric,” he posted. “Shame on the FMA.”
But that led to perhaps the most personal moment in the online tiff.
Amid the throwing of shame and shade, Tim Stapleton, CEO of the FMA, posted a mug shot of Pigman from a 2017 drunken driving arrest. Stapleton later deleted the tweet.
But the fleeting moment prompted Oliva to issue a statement in response.
“Last night, Florida Medical Association (FMA) CEO Tim Stapleton publicly attacked the character of a sitting member of the Florida House of Representatives, Rep. Dr. Cary Pigman,” Oliva said.
“This brazen act is entirely unacceptable behavior from the head of a professional organization. The fact that Mr. Stapleton’s motivation is the pursuit of protectionist policies which limit access to care make it especially egregious. An immediate and unequivocal apology is most certainly in order.”
When another anonymous poster also raised Pigman’s “blood alcohol content,” House communications director Fred Piccolo called out the “tough guy” hiding behind a Twitter handle.
Pigman notably played a central role in calming House members this week amid a coronavirus scare that stopped business in the Chamber Monday. He helped clear five members who attended political conferences with individuals later diagnosed with the virus, and worked with a team to disinfect the House chamber.
Meanwhile, the Senate on Tuesday voted not to take up the House version of “test and treat” legislation, but later came back with a Senate version with different language.
Sen. Travis Hutson said the bill does not apply to coronavirus testing because that requires the drawing of blood.