Florida Hospital Immunity Legislation on DeSantis’s Desk Amid Growing Calls for Veto

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside on Aug. 10, 2021 in Surfside, Fla.(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has until Feb. 24 to decide whether to sign, veto, or ignore legislation that protects health care providers from lawsuits related to COVID-19.

Florida lawmakers delivered SB 7014 to his desk late on Feb. 17, according to a statement from his office. Under the Florida Constitution, DeSantis has seven days to act on the measure. If he doesn’t address the legislation by Feb. 24, it will become law, taking effect immediately. That has put the Republican governor in a tight spot, forcing him to choose between aligning with his party or appeasing a growing number of constituents who are demanding a veto of the measure.

Support behind a letter stating why he should block the legislation has swelled to include signatures from 35 leaders of organizations representing a combined total of hundreds of thousands of people in Florida and beyond, according to the letter’s author, attorney R. Shawn McBride, of the American Freedom Information Institute.

The letter was hand-delivered to DeSantis’s office on Feb. 14. The organization updates his office daily on the growing number of people calling for his veto on the legislation.

The Republican-led effort on the measure seeks to extend a law that grants near-immunity to health care providers for, among other things, their treatment of COVID-19, as long as they follow “government-issued health standards relating to” the disease.

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People stand in a courtyard outside the Florida Capitol on Nov. 16 to urge lawmakers to approve measures against mask and vaccine mandates. (Nanette Holt for The Epoch Times)

DeSantis has said that doctors should be allowed to prescribe what they think works best and has said that Florida legislators should make a law offering protection. He hasn’t commented on the legislation on his desk, which contradicts his position.

Other states are currently considering making the use of ivermectin allowable in the treatment of COVID-19.

Federal government guidelines for treatment have been issued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And that’s the main reason for the uproar from opponents.

In their letter, opponents of the measure say that they don’t object to legal protections for health care providers. But they want doctors to be able to prescribe what they believe will work best for each patient, rather than being held to using government protocols.

Tying immunity from lawsuits to government-recommended treatments means that doctors could be afraid to try other medications that may save lives, according to the letter.

Doctors who have contacted The Epoch Times say that they’re increasingly fearful of being stripped of their licenses to practice medicine if they prescribe ivermectin or other drugs that they believe could cure people of COVID-19. Some say that they’ve received letters from malpractice insurance providers threatening to drop coverage if they prescribe treatments that aren’t recommended in the treatment of COVID-19 by the CDC or NIH.

Studies about the safety and efficacy of using ivermectin in the treatment for COVID-19 have led to all or part of 22 countries approving its use. Ivermectin, already a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drug for certain uses in humans and animals, is currently in clinical trials in the United States for use in the treatment of COVID-19.

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File photo: A package of ivermectin tablets. (Natasha Holt/The Epoch Times)

In the treatment of other diseases and conditions, physicians routinely prescribe drugs approved by the FDA, although not for that specific use. Those prescriptions are known as “off-label” uses.

Drugs, including ivermectin, prescribed as part of a popular COVID-19 treatment protocol widely used by independent doctors, are FDA-approved and have been lauded by many recovered patients. Yet hospitals across the country have battled patient families in court to avoid using them.

Payments to hospitals from the federal government under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act are also linked to adherence to government-recommended treatment guidelines.

That may have spelled death for many, according to opponents of the Florida legislation, echoing concerns of doctors who have spoken at medical freedom rallies around the country.

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A child holds a sign at a medical freedom rally outside the Florida Capitol on Nov. 16. 2021, during a special session of the Legislature.

“Centuries ago, hospitals were once places people avoided like the plague,” Jacksonville internist Dr. Ed Balbona wrote in a letter, urging DeSantis to veto the measure. “They were the places that you went to die. Today, the Covid pandemic has brought back this dread of hospitals.”

Balbona testified as part of a lawsuit brought by the family of a Mayo Clinic patient on a ventilator that begged the hospital to try other drugs. He told the judge that the man still could be saved. Mayo Clinic attorneys argued vigorously against using the treatments that Balbona recommended. The judge ruled against the family, and the man died.

“A deadly combination of greed, cowardice, and ignorance has led to frankly unethical hospital care. Hospitals have been reduced to mindless obedience. Obedience to CDC guidelines they know are worthless. Obedience to the FDA that promotes corporate profits rather than the public good,” Balbona said.

“It’s time for medical professionals to wake up and protect their patients. It’s time to rescind liability protections and vote against.”

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Dr. Eduardo Balbona. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Eduardo Balbona)

In lobbying to persuade others to vote for the legislation, Republican leaders in the Florida Legislature have said that protecting health care facilities from COVID-19-related claims is good for Floridians because it will help those medical providers remain financially solvent and open for business in difficult times.

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.

Nanette Holt

Nanette covers a wide range of issues, mostly in Georgia and her home state of Florida. She started as a journalist in a competitive, daily-newspaper market, and later launched a community newspaper in a geographic area ignored by other media. She spent many years writing and editing for a variety of national and international magazines, and has been hired to coach best-selling authors for book publishers. When she’s not chasing news, Nanette enjoys cattle ranch life with her husband, three children, and far too many horses, goats, cats, and dogs.