Legislation to limit apnea guidance heads to president's desk

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | 10/7/2013

Legislation to require a formal regulatory process for any future requirements on sleep apnea for truckers has been approved by both the U.S. House and Senate, and will now move to the White House.

The best part: Truckers are being hailed for their efforts to support the proposed law.

Introduced in mid-September by Reps. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., and Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., HR3095 would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration 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.

The bill was approved in the House by a vote of 405-0 in late September.

The U.S. Senate agreed by unanimous consent in the early evening hours Friday, Oct. 4 to approve HR3095.

The proposed senate bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Mark Warner, D-Va. It aimed to “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 legislation reads.

Both pieces of legislation were seen as a response to rumblings that FMCSA was preparing guidance that would urge physicians to require truckers with a Body Mass Index of 35 or greater to undergo overnight sleep exams. Guidance – although it would carry the weight of FMCSA’s name – wouldn’t have required a public comment period or other measures common to the regulatory approval process.

Bucshon, a physician, argued on the House floor that FMCSA shouldn’t leave guidance open to a doctor’s interpretation.

“If the FMCSA decides they want to weigh in on sleep apnea, they need to do so in the rulemaking process,” Bucshon said in mid-September. “The problem with issuing guidance instead of traditional rulemaking is that guidance is non-binding and open to interpretation.”

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.

The legislation was supported by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. When the legislation was being discussed in committee, OOIDA asked members to call their congressional representatives and urge their support for the measure.

OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley in the Association’s DC office says the membership sounded off to their Congressmen on the issue in a big way.

“Truckers really got involved with this issue,” said Bowley. “We heard from a number of offices here in DC that said truckers – especially OOIDA members – were very much engaged on this issue. Their voices were very important on getting this legislation through the House and the Senate not only without a single dissenting vote, but without a single dissenting speech on the legislation.”

“Small-business truckers thank the House for its support of this important legislation,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said in a news release. “We estimate that the potential cost to trucking from an overly broad policy will reach at least $1 billion, with much of the cost likely to be borne by safe and experienced small business truckers. Without this legislation FMCSA would be free to act on setting sleep apnea policy without considering these costs.”

The legislation was also supported by American Trucking Associations, the American Bus Association, the United Motorcoach Association, the National School Transportation, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

OOIDA has previously stated it believes any truck driver 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 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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