Senators introduce sleep apnea bill

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | 9/24/2013

One week after a congressional committee agreed to forward legislation that would require an open regulatory process by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a similar bill has been introduced to go before a U.S. Senate committee.

Co-sponsored by Senators Roy Blunt, R-MO and Mark Warner, D-VA, Senate Bill 1537 would “ensure that any new or revised requirement providing for the screening, testing or treatment of individuals operating commercial vehicles for sleep disorders is adopted through a rulemaking proceeding.”

The bill’s title was read twice in the Senate chambers Monday before being referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The bill’s full text was not available at press time Tuesday.

The proposed senate bill appears to be companion legislation for a bill that quickly moved through the U.S. House of Representatives after being introduced two weeks ago. 

Introduced last week by Reps. Larry Bucshon, R-IN, and Dan Lipinski, D-IL, HR3095 would require FMCSA to go through its regulatory process and analyze the potential cost of sleep apnea requirements rather than simply issuing guidance to physicians, drivers and motor carriers.

HR3095 is scheduled to be considered by a vote of the full House Wednesday evening.

Both bills appear to be a response to reports that FMCSA had prepared to introduce guidance on sleep apnea that would require CDL-holders of a specific body mass index to undergo sleep studies. Issuing guidance does not require the agency’s formal regulatory process, which includes comment periods and public notice.

Within one week of HR3095’s introduction in the House, FMCSA issued a comment to one news organization indicating it would not issue guidance and would address apnea through its standard regulatory process.

Members of Congress, however, have pressed on with the legislation. The legislation has been applauded by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Truck drivers and other CDL-holders have expressed concern about being targeted by the multi-billion dollar sleep and medical equipment industries. Because federally mandated physicals are tied to their license, regulations or advice from FMCSA to doctors wield particular power over a driver’s ability to work.

OOIDA has previously stated it believes any truck drivers with signs or symptoms of sleep apnea should seek the advice of their primary care physician. The Association has opposed mandates to require testing solely based on Body Mass Index, or BMI, and requirements that truckers use only expensive medical devices to treat the condition when other less expensive alternatives may be as effective.

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