HARRISBURG, Pa. (WPVI) -- As health teams on both coasts try to contain the highest number of measles cases in a quarter century, a proposed bill in the Pennsylvania legislature would discourage doctors from clamping down on unvaccinated families in their practices.
House Bill 286, called the Informed Consent Protection Act, would force doctors to treat unvaccinated children.
It would also bar insurance companies from penalizing doctors with low vaccination rates, and ban insurers or drug companies from offering bonuses to doctors who vaccinate more children.
The bill's primary sponsor, State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler Co.) and anti-vaccine supporters held a news conference today in Harrisburg to push for the legislation.
H.B. 286 is co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Cox (R-Berks/Lancaster Cos.), Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York/Cumberland Cos.), Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon Co.), Rep. Rich Irvin (R-Huntingdon/Centre/Mifflin Cos.), Rep. Lee James (R-Venango/Butler Cos.), and Rep. Rob Kauffman (Franklin Co.).
The bill limits what doctors can do to encourage families to get vaccinated.
It states, "A health care practitioner or health care facility shall nor harass, coerce, scold or threaten a patient or parent or guardian of a patient for exercising the right to delay or decline a vaccination under this act."
And it prohibits health care providers from requiring a patient, parent, or guardian to sign a liability waiver to get care if they delay or decline a vaccination.
Violations of those provisions would cost $1,000 for the first offense, and suspension or loss of license for the 2nd and any further offenses.
A separate provision requiring that all doctors' offices inform patients of the legislation carries stiffer penalties - $5,000 for an unintentional violation, $25,000 for an intentional violation.
Pennsylvania allows vaccination exemptions for medical or personal reasons.
Vaccination rates in the commonwealth have been high, over 96%, however, medical authorities fear anti-vaccination advocates will persuade more parents to opt out.
If the rate falls below 95%, experts say the "herd immunity" that protects communities from outbreaks will be lost.
That lack of "herd immunity" is one reason for the dangerous measles outbreaks in the New York City area and Los Angeles County.
In Rockland County, New York, 81% of those with measles have not been vaccinated.
Doctors are also concerned that unvaccinated children infected with highly contagious diseases, such as measles, will bring those into their offices, exposing pregnant women and infants too young for vaccinations.
Several infants in measles outbreaks across the country have caught the disease this way.
Proposed Pennsylvania bill forces doctors to treat unvaccinated children