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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: April 27, 2015 11:13 AM
From: Representative Dan Frankel
To: All House members
Subject: Disclosure of Marcellus Shale Fracking Chemicals to Physicians
In the near future, I will be introducing legislation to amend Act 13 of 2012 to clarify the rights and responsibilities of health care professionals when treating patients that have been exposed to fracking chemicals. This proposal will serve as companion legislation to Senate Bill 551, sponsored by Senator Leach. It is my sincere hope you will join me in this important public health endeavor.

There have been a number of recent legislative proposals and laws in states across the country that directly intrude on the personal and confidential patient-provider relationship. These proposals mandate or otherwise direct how health care providers interact with and care for their patients. In Pennsylvania, health care practitioners have expressed concerns that Act 13 of 2012 limits providers’ ability to discuss the chemicals involved in natural gas fracking with patients who might be directly harmed by them. Specifically, current law allows physicians to obtain information about the chemicals used in the fracking process if the information is needed for the diagnosis or treatment of an individual, but only after signing a confidentiality agreement. The language of this agreement, however, is not outlined in state law and remains unclear.

Considering the law’s ambiguity, various physicians filed suit in both state and federal court arguing Act 13’s “physician gag order” serves no valid state interest and that without sharing fracking chemical information, doctors cannot make an informed diagnosis of a patient. Although Commonwealth Court upheld this provision in July 2014, Judge Patricia McCollough, in her dissent, indicated that it is fair to assume that a health professional will be unable to coordinate patient outcome and treatment plans with other hospitals who later experience the same or a similar case. Moreover, many physicians have indicated they are not satisfied with the court’s ruling and remain concerned about Act 13’s vagueness.

My legislation will eliminate the current requirement for physicians to sign a confidentiality agreement of any kind relating to fracking chemicals, as long as the information is needed specifically for the diagnosis or treatment of a patient. Additionally, my bill clearly delineates the circumstances in which a health care professional may disseminate fracking chemicals deemed to be a trade secret or confidential proprietary information. These circumstances include sharing this information directly with a patient, with other health professionals to treat a patient, and with a public health official.

Act 13’s vagueness has created unnecessary confusion in Pennsylvania’s doctor offices and hospitals, directly impacting patient care. As such, I invite all members to sign on as co-sponsors to this critical proposal.

Introduced as HB1292