Doctors draft own bill seeking physical, financial protections while battling COVID-19

Apr 8, 2020

A grassroots network of doctors and medical professionals have drafted and forwarded a proposal that, if passed on Capitol Hill, would provide numerous safeguards for those working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the numerous doctors who helped draft the bill spoke with WBFO.

Andrew Tisser, a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, is a board certified emergency physician and the Medical Director at Rochester Regional Health Urgent Care in Batavia and United Memorial Medical Center/Rochester Regional Health. He is one of the numerous professionals who helped draft the proposal, known as the COVID-19 Pandemic Physician Protection Act. (Click on the link for the online petition.)

Topping the list of provisions in the proposal is the assurance of adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE). But Dr. Tisser explained there are also financial provisions sought in their proposal, which has been submitted to the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"Increasing and removing restrictions for telehealth, keeping private practices financially solvent, ensuring mental health coverages, coverage for a healthcare workers, the establishment of a COVID-19 fund - such that would be compared directly to the 911 funds for workers - as well as a number of different issues where we could use some help right now," he said to WBFO.

Those other issues include student loan debt cancellation. Dr. Tisser told WBFO about 20 percent of physicians come out of medical school with more than $300,000 in debt, with 7 or 8 percent interest rates. Further training, he adds, puts some physicians' debts closer to $500,000.

"So, there is a stipulation in there, as part of the fund, to either really relieve some of that debt or make some changes such as zero percent interest or tax credits, but something to help ease the burden of that debt, so we can at least go out and do our job and not have to worry about it," he said.

The proposal also addresses protection for families of medical professionals who may die while working in the COVID-19 response effort. Dr. Tisser explained that federal student loan debt is discharged upon death, but that's not the case with private refinancing companies to which many doctors turn in order to get out of higher interest rates.

"If one of us were to die fighting COVID-19, our family members would be saddled with a half a million dollars of debt with no real way to pay that back," he said.

Tisser says his facilities have been fortunate so far with adequate PPE supply. He also stated his employer has provided sufficient counseling and other services to address the mental health needs of professionals who have worked long hours and under stressful conditions. Their peak workload may soon be coming but Tisser, who studied medicine in Long Island, told WBFO he's concerned now for his colleagues downstate.

"Luckily as of now, Western New York has not had the surge that downstate has, but speaking with many of my friends and colleagues that lived down there, they're struggling," he said. "Especially with lack of protective gear and being kind of led to the slaughter, almost. There's a lot of concern. I don't know that it's being focused on enough, especially right now. I mean, we're doctors or nurses or techs. We're trained to do our job and we will do our job. But what comes following this, I'm very fearful for."