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Representatives introduce bill to ensure rulemaking for sleep apnea, not guidance

Truckers and medical professionals have long complained that fuzziness in federal guidance on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) testing and treatment has resulted in pendulum swings from one extreme to the other.

The Trucker News Services

9/12/2013

ARLINGTON, Va.   Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., and Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., have introduced legislation to ensure that any federal standards governing sleep apnea in truck and bus drivers would be through a rulemaking instead of guidance, which has previously been the case.

The bill states that the Secretary of the Department of Transportation “may implement or enforce a requirement providing for the screening, testing, or treatment (including consideration of all possible treatment alternatives) of individuals operating commercial motor vehicles for sleep disorders only if the requirement is adopted pursuant to a rulemaking proceeding.”

However, this doesn't apply to a requirement that was in force before September 1, it said.

It also specifically states that the definition of sleep disorders “includes obstructive sleep apnea” or OSA.

ATA quickly applauded Reps. Bucshon and Lipinski for introducing the bill, which ATA said would “ensure that if the federal government sets standards for sleep apnea screening and testing of professional truck and bus drivers, those standards are established through an informed rulemaking process.”

Truckers and medical professionals have long complained that fuzziness in federal guidance on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) testing and treatment has resulted in pendulum swings from one extreme to the other.

One extreme mentioned by drivers is that an examiner may see a trucker’s stomach sticking out over his belt and immediately order sleep apnea testing. From an examiner’s point of view, it’s not worth staking one’s medical career on, so better to be safe than sorry and test pretty much everyone.

On the other hand, there are horror stories about truckers finding a practitioner who will turn a blind eye to excessive daytime sleepiness or other obvious signs of OSA.

“ATA believes that if the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants to regulate sleep apnea, it should do so through the normal, established regulatory process rather than through informal guidance,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves.

“The rulemaking process allows for medical experts, the regulated community, including professional drivers, to provide valuable data and input for the agency to consider in developing its regulations. A formal rulemaking will also require an analysis of the benefits and costs of regulating sleep apnea, an analysis not required for the issuance of guidance.”

 FMCSA officials have indicated they intend to issue guidance as a means of quickly addressing sleep apnea in the professional driver population.

“This is not an insignificant step,” Graves said. “There are more than 3 million professional truck drivers and the cost of screening, diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea could easily exceed $1 billion annually. Taking a step as potentially costly as that shouldn’t be undertaken lightly and outside of the normal processes.”

Bucshon and Lipinski’s bill is also supported by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the American Bus Association, the United Motorcoach Association, the National School Transportation Association and the United Brotherhood of Teamsters, according to an ATA news release.

 The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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