Doctor groups fight proposed law that would require background checks

Leaders of the health care profession said they are too concerned about violent incidents occurring when there is no law against intimidation.

That’s the main reason why, several local physicians said, they oppose a proposed bill that would require criminal background checks for many state health insurance providers.

The Maryland Medical Society, which represents about 47,000 physicians and 45,000 other health care workers in the state, supports the bill.

The current criminal background check law, known as PA32, is not strong enough to prevent assaults on health care workers, its leaders said.

“There is an over-complicated checklist for determining if there is a criminal record” by the health insurance companies, said Dr. Telly Martz, the medical society’s president. “It could be four or five checks, and there is a backlog.”

PA32 “is not a bad system,” Martz said, “but there needs to be some more clarity” about what health insurance providers must do, what they must check and the need for a more clear and evident baseline on background checks.

Martz said his organization “supports any effort to improve the system.”

But the bill’s supporters, who include the Maryland Public Health Association, called for passing the legislation, saying that employers who deny work to workers because of certain behavior, such as going through somebody’s trash, are prohibited in their contracts.

They said the prospective physical violence would deter people who don’t have the criminal history check from applying to the health insurance provider and, since those applications would be blocked, that would solve the problem.

Senator Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles, who is sponsoring the legislation in the state Senate, said the bill would give the state’s three health insurance providers power they are currently not willing to use.

Carroll County Police Chief Doug Welles said it could be hard to enforce a “rule that goes around the employment rules you have.”

Shawn Cruz, a partner with the local law firm Fumara Stokes Baanowski and Kim, said the “new emphasis” on compliance with PA32 would boost the employee protection area of insurance complaints filed with the insurance provider. Cruz said recent research has shown that employee protection could increase between 15 and 50 percent when employees are made aware of the laws against intimidation or discrimination.

“The employer is really concerned,” Cruz said, and they tell the employee “to get the customer out of my store. That is usually a threat to employees because that is a very powerful force.”

Carroll County has had so many flare-ups of violence against health care workers that a county task force, after meeting with Middleton, reached out to support Middleton’s legislation.

“This definitely needs to be taken seriously,” said Dr. Henry H. Marks Jr., chairman of the Howard County Board of Health, who has worked in a few health insurance agencies in the last decade. “We should let it be known that health insurance providers have no place harassing employees. This will make the process less burdensome for applicants.”

Marks is serving on a hospital task force that also recently met with Middleton about the legislation.

“Workplace violence is increasing in the U.S., and at the county level in particular, as a result of job demands,” Middleton said. “Yet, this pervasive threat to safety and well-being seems to remain largely ignored by our state government.”

—Peyton Greene, Maryland Public Media

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