Florida’s controversial crackdown on prescription drug abuse took a small step forward – and one giant step backward in recent days.
On Friday, Governor Rick Scott signed into law the Health Care Facilities Bill, which tightens the regulation and licensing of drug screening laboratories. The legislation seeks to prevent kickbacks and other inducements that are often given to doctors by drug labs to get their business.
That news was overshadowed by a federal judge’s ruling that Gov. Scott’s attempt to force drug testing on state workers was unconstitutional. Federal District Judge Ursula Ungaro ruled that Scott’s executive order failed to show a “concrete danger” and there was “no evidence of a drug use problem” among state workers.
Public employee unions and the ACLU had challenged Scott’s order, which called for mandatory drug testing for all new hires and random testing for about 85,000 existing employees.
The governor will appeal the ruling. “I believe that drug testing state employees is a common-sense means of ensuring a safe, efficient and productive work force,” Scott said in an email to reporters. “That is why so many private employers drug test, and why the public and Florida’s taxpayers overwhelmingly support this policy.”
Although he signed the bill that increases regulation of the drug test industry, Gov. Scott has some reservations about it. The new law tightens regulations that prohibit drugs labs from placing personnel in doctors’ offices, as well as leasing or renting space in the offices. Fines of up to $5,000 would be imposed on violators, who could also lose their state license after two violations.
“It is critically important for the state to maintain a strict prohibition against unlawful commissions, bonuses, kickbacks, rebates or split fee arrangements, ” Gov. Scott wrote in a letter to Florida Secretary of state Ken Detzner. “However, the current interpretation of the anti-kickback law as it relates to the use of trained specimen collectors and the lease of space in the physician offices merits further scrutiny. To that end, I will direct the Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration to work with representatives of the clinical lab industry to examine this issue and develop alternative approaches to regulating this particular area of health care law.” The letter did not spell out what “alternative approaches” the Governor would seek or why.
Ameritox, a large national drug screening company, said in a statement it was “encouraged” by the Governor’s letter and would work collaboratively with the AHCA on the issue.
Another national drug lab expressed full support for the law in its current form.
“Florida’s lawmakers acted decisively in addressing flagrant violations by laboratories that compromise honest and unsuspecting doctors and their patients in the name of profit,” said Howard Appel, president of Millennium Laboratories. “Despite previous multiple warnings, regulatory clarifications, and cease and desist letters from Florida’s AHCA, these bad behaviors continued. With last Friday’s signing by Governor Scott, violators will be forced to either quit their irresponsible conduct or quit the state entirely.”