AAFP Statement: Bush Administration ‘Right of Conscience’ Rule
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, December 22, 2008
Statement to be attributed to:
Ted Epperly, M.D.
American Academy of Family Physicians
The Bush administration’s Dec. 18 final rule on health care providers’ right of conscience is an unfortunate intrusion into patients’ right to information about their health care and is an unnecessary imposition of costly paperwork on an already overburdened health care system.
This rule requires health care organizations, including physician practices, to provide information on federal law protecting employees’ right to refuse participation in health care services to which they morally object. It also requires these health care providers to certify that employees have been made aware of that right.
Unfortunately, this regulation is overly vague. It could be broadly interpreted to permit health care professionals not only to refuse certain services or treatments, but also to refuse to provide information about where to obtain such services or treatments. As a result, patients in need of legal health care services may be denied access to those services. This has grave implications for patients’ access to preventive, contraceptive health care and threatens to raise unwarranted barriers to emergency services for victims of rape and patients with life-threatening complications of pregnancy.
Not only will this rule potentially restrict patient access to legal medical prescriptions and treatments, but it also will add $44 million in enforcement costs to an already overburdened health care system.
The American Academy of Family Physicians fully supports health professionals’ right to refuse participation in health services that violate their conscience. However, AAFP policy also calls for patient access to legally prescribed pharmaceuticals or medical treatments – including contraception and sterilization. Health care professionals who have moral objections to those treatments should make referrals to providers who can meet patients’ needs in a timely manner. A federal rule permitting a health care professional to withhold both medical services and needed medical information interferes with the ability to improve patient care and to meet patients’ needs.
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Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 110,600 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.
Approximately one in four of all office visits are made to family physicians. That is 240 million office visits each year — nearly 87 million more than the next largest medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care.
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