Kansas senator warns doctors of consequences for failure to treat COVID-19 with ivermectin
Sen. Mark Steffen listens to testimony March 8, 2022, on legislation shielding doctors from discipline for prescribing ivermectin for COVID-19. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas Sen. Mark Steffen bragged about the attention he received for sending a threatening letter to doctors encouraging the use of ivermectin for early treatment of COVID-19 based on a law the Legislature didn’t pass.
In a Facebook post from his personal account, Steffen said he sent the letter — dated March 31 and written on “Senate Chamber” letterhead — to “over 250 Kansas hospitals, clinics and government agencies.”
The Republican and anesthesiologist from Hutchinson pointed out the letter earned praise in a tweet from Peter McCullough, a national figure known for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines and the off-label use of drugs like ivermectin.
McCullough called Steffen “an American hero.”
Steffen called the tweet “humbling.”
Steffen has championed proposed legislation that would shield doctors from discipline for prescribing unproven treatments for COVID-19, and require pharmacists to fill those prescriptions. He revealed that he was under investigation by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts after personally prescribing ivermectin to patients.
The Senate passed the law, but the House didn’t consider it before adjourning last week for a three-week break.
In his letter, Steffen said support for the law means doctors no longer have to worry about interference from pharmacists or the Board of Healing Arts. Furthermore, Steffen wrote, the “legal community” has indicated that a failure to prescribe drugs like ivermectin will be considered “wanton disregard.”
Jeremy Presley, a family physician in Dodge City, said he was shocked by the unsolicited correspondence from a state senator he had never heard from before.
“I interpreted it as the intent being, ‘This is the word and you will follow it,’ and, ‘This is me warning you,’” Presley said. “I mean, it’s worded in a mildly threatening manner.”
Medical literature doesn’t support Steffen’s claims about the use of off-label drugs to treat COVID-19, Presley said.
“Basically,” Presley said, the letter is “blatantly telling us that you will be guilty of malpractice by not providing this care.”
Presley said he wasn’t aware before checking with colleagues that the Legislature didn’t actually pass the law referenced in the letter. He now reads the letter as “a bald-faced lie,” Presley said.
“It really came across as a real threat,” Presley said. “It’s telling us this is the law, and here’s your expectation, and you will do this or you will be held accountable for it. So not something I want to hear from a elected official.”
Steffen, Senate leadership and the Board of Healing Arts didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment for this story.
Steffen’s letter begins with a passage about the two-year struggle to respond to COVID-19 and an elusive standard of care in the early treatment of the disease.
Delays in treatment, he wrote, are no longer acceptable.
“All providers caring for those infected with Covid must have mastery of protocols heretofore considered beyond the FDA or CDC,” Steffen wrote.
Doctors use drugs like Paxlovid because studies show they are effective in treating COVID-19. But Steffen pointed out there are concerns about the availability of those drugs, and that those drugs can cause problems when interacting with other medications. Meanwhile, Steffen wrote, “ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, and fluvoxamine remain readily available and are historically well tolerated.”
Peer-reviewed clinical trials routinely show those drugs provide no benefit in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. Still, Steffen said “hundreds of studies” show the drugs have “significant efficacy that can no longer be dismissed.”
“With the recent passage of Senate substitute for HB 2280 by the Kansas Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee and subsequently the Senate as a whole, there is no reason to think that prescribing problems will arise from pharmacist or Board of Healing Arts interference,” Steffen wrote. “In consultation with the legal community, indications are that ‘failure to treat’ will now be considered ‘wanton disregard.’ As such, any perceived statutory immunity will be rendered invalid.
“Providing care to the ill is difficult yet rewarding when done correctly and with a patient-first approach. I wish you the very best as our treatment of Covid becomes more sophisticated.”
COVID-19 has killed 8,397 Kansans since the start of the pandemic, according to an official count from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The agency has recorded more than 770,000 infections.
Medical professionals encourage the use of safe and effective vaccines to prevent serious illness from COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 71.6% of Kansas adults have been fully vaccinated.
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