Many truckers making their voices heard on sleep apnea issue

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 4/28/2016

As the June 8 deadline for comments regarding a potential sleep apnea regulation approaches, many truck drivers have already weighed in on the subject.

As of Thursday, April 28, more than 250 comments had been submitted to the Regulations.Gov website.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Federal Railroad Administration published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on March 10 that requested data and information regarding the prevalence of moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea among individuals occupying safety sensitive positions in highway and rail transportation and on its potential consequences for the safety of rail and highway transportation. The agencies also requested information on potential costs and benefits from regulatory actions that address the safety risks associated with motor carrier and rail transportation workers in safety sensitive positions who have obstructive sleep apnea.

Many of the comments have questioned the need for required sleep apnea testing and suggested a regulation would be nothing more than a money grab for the sleep industry:

  • “Seems to me, you already have your answer. According to research on sleep apnea published by FMCSA and authored by Dr. Allan Pack of the University of Pennsylvania, ‘there is no statistical evidence in these data to suggest that the presence of sleep apnea significantly increases the likelihood or the risk of motor vehicle crashes.’”
  • “I think before you can start making required regulations, more testing, facts and proof need to be reviewed. Not only when I took my sleep study test was I only 26 years old, but I had zero traces of any sleep disorder! The out-of-pocket cost for this sleep study is in the hundreds of dollars range! Most of the CDL holders are middle-class citizens, just trying to keep (our) heads above water. Adding a couple of hundred dollars’ medical expense, which in my case and I’m sure in a lot of other drivers’ cases, is wasted money. Find a more sure way to determine sleeping disorders without spending thousands of dollars. Otherwise keep your hand out of my pocket and let me do my job!”
  • “Our drivers are currently experiencing an issue when they go to renew their DOT medical cards that the clinics listed in the national registry are stating that their BMI (body mass index) shows they need to go for a sleep apnea evaluation. This cost is currently not covered under the medical plans by most carriers. Several of the drivers have gone, and the cost is high. Some of the doctors have ask(ed) why they are there as they are not a sleep apnea candidate. For years, this has never been an issue. Why now? What we hear from the driver pool, it’s just another money maker for everyone except the drivers.”
  • “There has to be an affordable option for drivers to get tested who do not have decent insurance. The criteria for assessing drivers who may have sleep apnea cannot rely on BMI and snoring alone.”
  • “I have seen many instances of drivers being forced to get sleep studies simply because the provider profits from it and not because the driver had any symptoms.”
  • “There are other treatment methods for sleep apnea than CPAP machines, such as oral appliances, which have a better rate of usage as they are less bulky and do not have a microchip usage tracking component. This data reporting should not be part of any treatment. It’s a correctable medical condition, same as corrective eyeglasses, which is listed on my license but does not contain a data reporting chip. Not wearing my glasses is just as much of a safety issue. The medical sleep apnea treatment industry is seeing this possible regulation as a windfall of profits; the drivers and rail workers on the other hand are seeing this as a financial testing burden. These expensive tests should be determined by a regular personal physician, not a medical examiner who only sees a patient once. Any physician recommending these sleep study tests should have no financial gain (or) link with sleep labs or CPAP manufacturers.”

Several people claiming to be medical professionals have also weighed in on the issue:

  • “I am a family physician … and have been doing DOT physicals for 25 years. Prior to instituting new rules regarding sleep apnea, it would be prudent to study existing drivers with sleep apnea to determine if there is any increased risk in accidents.”
  • “Sleep apnea is a serious and often undiagnosed condition. In my experience, this is a safety sensitive issue. If not addressed … this condition will spiral out of control.”

People from both sides of the argument still have time to provide comments.

Written comments regarding possible sleep apnea requirements can be submitted at Regulations.Gov or by mailing Docket Services, U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, D.C. 20590-0001. You are asked to identify whether you are in the transportation industry or medical profession, but you can choose to remain anonymous.

There are also three listening sessions planned that people who wish to comment can attend. The three sessions will be May 12 in Washington, D.C., May 17 in Chicago, and May 25 in Los Angeles.

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