Washington Insider
Medical Review Board: Conflict of Interest?

By Melissa Theriault
OOIDA associate director of government affairs


I am sure most of Land Line’s readers have heard or read about the Body Mass Index and how it could affect drivers’ future medical certifications, but that is only the most egregious of a whole host of issues that is coming out of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Medical Review Board.

The Medical Review Board, composed of five practicing physicians, will be advising the transportation secretary and the FMCSA administrator on changes to the medical qualification requirements for commercial motor vehicle operators.

The board was established in the current highway authorization bill, SAFETEA-LU, and tasked FMCSA to update the medical qualification standards for drivers.

There are already medical certification requirements for commercial drivers just as there are for pilots and vessel masters. Pilots are subjected to the most robust of these minimum physical requirements.

Unfortunately for drivers, the five physicians on the Medical Review Board are practicing physicians and have a monetary stake in their task. When they look at drivers, they see ATMs.

The board is reviewing every aspect of health and recommending that only the drivers in the best of health be certified and that all other drivers be classified as unqualified or, more likely, conditionally certified. Conditional certification requires drivers to visit their doctors on a more frequent basis and take more tests – lining the pockets of the physicians with dough. It is a racket.

It will be easy for physicians to find health problems using substantial qualification standards, especially if they are looking for them. A host of people involved in the board meetings have motives that will cost drivers where it hurts – in their pockets. Physicians on the board and attending the meetings want drivers to take more medical tests and visit their doctors’ offices more frequently.

Also attending these meetings are salesmen, usually called consultants, who are trying to sell their latest gadget or pills as a mandatory fix to some of these requirements – at the expense of the driver.

For example, a driver will be classified as unqualified to drive by a physician, but can qualify for conditional certification if the driver buys additional equipment or drugs from a supplier to address the diagnosis and see a physician on a frequent scheduled basis. The medical suppliers and physicians make out like bandits.

And let’s not forget about the big trucking companies. They are supporting these certification recommendations. Big trucking companies view these recommendations as a way to get more experienced – and therefore more expensive – drivers off the road.

Let’s face it, the driver pool is aging, and with age comes some wear and tear to the body. Big trucking companies want to take advantage of that and kick out the safer, more experienced drivers because it helps their bottom lines. They won’t have to pay the higher wages to the younger drivers, and the health benefits are cheaper, too.

The Medical Review Board is scheduled for more public meetings addressing yet more medical qualifications before they report to the secretary with their recommendations. At that point there will be a notice in the Federal Register for public comment on the new medical qualifications.

OOIDA will be present and vocal in advocating on behalf of drivers, especially on some of the more egregious recommendations. That being said, this is an issue that affects the livelihood of all drivers in varying degrees. You are your best advocate. When the call for public comment is made, you should let DOT know how the new requirements will affect how you do business. More information is available at LL

Editor’s note: In the July issue, Staff Writer Charlie Morasch will analyze FMCSA’s Medical Review Board’s argument for instituting a Body Mass Index exemption.