Coast Guard bill would streamline medical reviews

Tucked into the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 is a provision that gooses the agency to streamline the often frustrating and time-consuming medical review process mariners go through for credentials.

Section 310, Subsection 7509 entitled “Medical certification by trusted agents” bears a striking resemblance to a Designated Medical Examiner (DME) proposal that’s been under discussion for several years.

The legislation would require the Coast Guard to certify local doctors to determine mariners’ medical fitness. A final rule implementing the new system would have to be issued within three years of the law’s enactment. The bipartisan bill (H.R. 1987) passed the House and is now in the Senate.

“For many years the committee has received complaints and industry concerns regarding the medical certification process,” especially about delays and the lack of hands-on medical reviews, said John Rayfield, staff director of the subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation where the bill originated. “The committee intends to provide more tools for making the medical certification process more efficient.”

Mariners would have a choice of using the designated examiner or the current system – their personal doctor whose report is reviewed by the Coast Guard.

The Merchant Mariner Medical Advisory Committee (MEDMAC) formed several years ago to help simplify and clarify the medical review system has endorsed a DME program. The examiners would be a nationwide network of professionals who know what the rules are and are authorized to issue certificates. The program would be similar to those run by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The American Waterways Operators (AWO) and the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) favor the examiners as an option.

Coast Guard spokesman Lisa Novak said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

About the author

Dale K. DuPont

Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.

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