California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a controversial bill that would enable medical boards to discipline doctors who are believed to spread "misinformation" about COVID-19 to patients. The new legislation could punish California physicians and surgeons who don't toe the line with the revocation of their medical license.
On Friday, Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 2098.
"Assembly Bill 2098 provides that the dissemination of misinformation or disinformation related to COVID-19 by physicians and surgeons to a patient under their direct care constitutes unprofessional conduct," Newsom said in a statement.
Newsom specified that AB 2098 only applies to "discussions directly related to COVID-19 treatment within a direct physician-patient relationship."
The text of the bill reads, "The spread of misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines has weakened public confidence and placed lives at serious risk. Major news outlets have reported that some of the most dangerous propagators of inaccurate information regarding the COVID-19 vaccines are licensed health care professionals."
The bill references the Federation of State Medical Boards – which represents the state medical and osteopathic regulatory boards across the country.
"The Federation of State Medical Boards has released a statement warning that physicians who engage in the dissemination of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation risk losing their medical license, and that physicians have a duty to provide their patients with accurate, science-based information," the California bill threatens.
"Existing law provides for the licensure and regulation of physicians and surgeons by the Medical Board of California and the Osteopathic Medical Board of California," the bill notes.
AB 2098 states, "This bill would designate the dissemination of misinformation or disinformation related to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, or 'COVID-19,' as unprofessional conduct."
According to the Medical Board of California, the minimum punishment for unprofessional conduct is five years probation, and the maximum penalty is the revocation of the doctor's medical license.
AB 2098 reads: "It shall constitute unprofessional conduct for a physician and surgeon to disseminate misinformation or disinformation related to COVID-19, including false or misleading information regarding the nature and risks of the virus, its prevention and treatment; and the development, safety, and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines."
There was much pushback against Assembly Bill 2098.
One vocal critic of AB 2098 is Dr. Jay Bhattacharya – an epidemiologist and professor of Health Policy at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
In April, Bhattacharya wrote a piece exposing the dangers of AB 2098 when it was first introduced.
"According to California Assembly Bill 2098, physicians who deviate from an authorized set of beliefs would do so at risk to their medical license," Bhattacharya wrote. "The bill, written by Assemblyman Evan Low, a Democrat in Silicon Valley, and currently making its way through the California Legislature, is motivated by the idea that practicing doctors are spreading 'misinformation' about the risks of COVID, its treatment, and the COVID vaccine."
"The language of the bill itself is intentionally vague about what constitutes 'misinformation,' which makes it even more damaging," he continued. "Doctors, fearing loss of their livelihoods, will need to hew closely to the government line on COVID science and policy, even if that line does not track the scientific evidence."
Bhattacharya warned, "What is abundantly clear is that this bill represents a chilling interference with the practice of medicine. The bill itself is full of misinformation and a demonstration of what a disaster it would be to have the legislature dictate the practice of medicine."
Kevin Kiley – a Republican member of the California State Assembly – wrote on Twitter, "On Friday Newsom took a sledgehammer to the First Amendment by signing the medical censorship bill. The courts will strike down AB 2098 in short order."
Epidemiologist Tracy Beth Høeg, M.D., Ph.D., noted, "Wow. Well, Newsom signed AB 2098, the Physician Misinformation Bill into law. & the text of the former bill, now law, already ironically contains misinformation. It says unvaxxed at '11 times greater' risk of dying from COVID than vaxxed, but CDC's website says it's only 5x."
Medical journalist Liz Highleyman added, "I don't trust the government, medical board, or big tech to adjudicate misinformation when scientific consensus is constantly changing. I fear #AB2098 could have negative consequences, including frivolous & revenge lawsuits."