A two-term state lawmaker wants to force health care providers to disclose – up front – whether they won’t provide certain medical services or products based on their religious beliefs.
The proposal by Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, would not force doctors, pharmacists, hospitals to serve patients whose needs violate their own moral or beliefs. But she said it’s only fair that would-be patients are made aware of that ahead of time, before they show up for services that they cannot get.
Powers Hannley said this is about more than doctors that will not prescribe birth control pills or the Plan B emergency contraception, or the pharmacists who will not dispense it, even with a proper prescription. She said others, such as transgender people, may want to know up front whether a doctor they need or even one assigned by an insurance company will turn them away.
“They don’t want to be embarrassed,” Powers Hannley said.
At the center of the issue is a state law which prohibits the government from denying, suspending or revoking anyone’s professional or occupational license for “declining to provide or participate in providing any service that violates the person’s sincerely held religious beliefs.” The sole exception to that involves peace officers.
A separate and more specific statute says that pharmacists, hospitals and health professionals are “not required to facilitate or participate in the provision of an abortion, abortion medication, emergency contraception or any medication or device intended to inhibit or prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum” if they object “on moral or religious grounds.”
And that law does not require pharmacists who refuse to fill a prescription to refer the customer to someone else who will.
“I think people should know if a health care institution or a health care provider is not willing to offer all of the legal drugs and services that are within their scope of practice because those drugs or services are not aligned with their deeply held religious beliefs,” she said. “It’s like a ‘buyer beware’ or a `patient right to know.’ ”
As crafted, HB 2068 would require any health care entity that does not provide certain health care services based on religious beliefs to provide a complete list of what a patient cannot get.
The way Powers Hannley envisions it, any list prepared by a pharmacy would have to be placed on the company’s web site.
“A lot of people shop a little bit on line before they go someplace,” she said. “Or they could be purchasing these drugs online.”
Also an option, Powers Hannley said, would be a sign at the pharmacy window.
The same disclosure, she said, would apply to doctors, with any web sites disclosing that patients cannot get a specific medical treatment even if it is within the physician’s scope of practice. Powers Hannley said it’s not unusual for people to search out doctors on the internet.
“I don’t want to waste anybody’s time,” she said.
That, Powers Hannley said, is especially true for those whose gender identity differs from what is assigned at birth.
“I don’t want the trans person to be embarrassed or upset by showing up to a doctor that’s not going to give them a physical,” she said. “Let them know in advance so when they’re shopping they know who is going to be willing and qualified to serve them.”
That issue of qualifications, Powers Hannley said, is particularly important.
“Trans people have special needs,” she explained.
“They have hormones they take,” Powers Hannley continued. “I mean, there’s a lot going on there.”
And, if nothing else, she said that patients who may want a simple physical need to know “who’s going to be accepting of your lifestyle.”
Hospitals present a different issue.
“I’ve read some pretty tragic stories online about women in some sort of an emergency pregnancy situation and the ambulance takes them to a hospital because of their deeply held religious beliefs they’re going to save the baby before they save the mother,” Powers Hannley said.
“The husband and wife should know what’s going on,” she said, saying that some “may not buy into that idea.”
“Sometimes the option that’s going to save the life of the mother is an abortion,” Powers Hannley said.
“That should be available,” she said. “It’s a legal service in the United States.”
Powers Hannley said that’s why patients should be informed of the hospital’s policy as soon as possible after arriving and as quickly as possible to allow for the woman to be transferred.
“Look at it from the husband’s point,” she said.
“Then you’ve got a baby with no help,” Powers Hannley said. “You’ve got no mom. You’ve got no breast milk.”
In fact, she said, it should not even have to get to the situation where a couple should have to seek a transfer to another hospital. She said ambulance companies should know ahead of time which facilities might not be able to help in that kind of problem pregnancy situation.
“I think that they would know already,” Powers Hannley said.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, which has pushed for religious exemptions for health care providers and businesses, said she could not comment on this proposal as she not yet had a chance to review it. That also was the response from Kelly Fine, CEO of the Arizona Pharmacy Association, who said that the measure would need to be reviewed by the organization’s board of director and legislative committee.
There was no immediate response from the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association or the Arizona Medical Association.