In late Dec., the OPPA sent a letter to the State Medical Board of Ohio (SMBO) asking formally (again) that the board eliminate questions from the application for medical licensure that require answers regarding a physician’s mental health history. This type of inquiry occurs even when such treatment is for a condition which in no way currently impairs or limits a physician’s ability to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety. Further, this type of inquiry is in violation of Title II of the American's with Disability Act.
Title II of the ADA prohibits states from discriminating against people with disabilities in the administration, requirements and eligibility criteria of licensing programs, such as the application for medical licensure. Under Title II, medical board applicants with mental illness should not be treated differently compared to other applicants simply because they have a mental health diagnosis or have been diagnosed with a mental illness in the past.
Specifically, there are a number of physicians in practice in Ohio, and throughout the United States, who are diagnosed with “bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia, or any other psychotic disorder” (as asked in questions 22a and 22b of the Ohio Physician Licensure Application), but their symptoms are well-controlled by treatment and they thus function without any impairment whatsoever. The public safety concern when licensing physicians to practice in Ohio is NOT whether they have, or have ever had, one of the diagnoses above, but whether that diagnosed mental illness “in any way impairs or limits” their ability to practice medicine with “reasonable skill or safety”. Questions 23 and 24 of the Ohio Physician Licensure Application already address this concern, asking if the applying physician has any impairment due to a “medical condition”, the definition of which explicitly includes “emotional or mental illness”. It is reasonable to ask about impaired functioning secondary to any illness (as in questions 23 and 24), but it is discriminatory to ask about the mere existence of a diagnosis of any specific illness (as in questions 22a and 22b).
Much like other states have done, Ohio can voluntarily remove these discriminatory inquiries and still obtain the necessary information to determine an applicant’s ability to practice medicine without perpetuating the stigma and bias that many people (including physicians) with mental illness already endure in our society