State Sen. Scott Jensen, a physician, said Monday he has "no regrets" over controversial comments he made about COVID-19 that have sparked a state review.
Jensen, a Republican from Chaska, said he believes complaints to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice that he was spreading misinformation and giving "reckless advice" about the coronavirus may be politically motivated.
The board declined to confirm any complaints or reviews underway, stating that such information is not subject to public disclosure.
But Jensen shared a portion of the board's letter with the Star Tribune, which states: "The Board has received complaints regarding public messages you made related to COVID-19. In accordance with Minnesota law, the Board is required to make inquiries into all complaints and reports wherein violations of the Medical Practice Act are alleged."
Two separate complaints were made to the board, Jensen said. He doesn't know who filed them, he said.
Jensen landed in the national spotlight after raising concerns that federal guidance could cause doctors to overcount COVID-19 cases and saying that there's a financial incentive to inflating the numbers.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Monday he supports Jensen, asserting in a prepared statement that the doctor "has proven to be right." Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, noted a USA Today article verifying that hospitals get more money if Medicare patients are diagnosed with COVID-19 and on ventilators.
However, the article said there have been no public reports of COVID-19 cases being exaggerated.
"We are looking into whether or not the board is compelled to investigate every complaint or if they are choosing to investigate Dr. Jensen," Gazelka said, noting that he is concerned the two complaints were coordinated. "Legislators should not have to fear regulators based on their speech. If the bureaucratic state can silence speech through investigations, we have very dark times ahead for our democracy."
Art Caplan, director of medical ethics at New York University's school of medicine, said Jensen's comments about overcounting cases, as well as his comparison of the COVID-19 death toll to influenza deaths, are problematic. National medical organizations have warned that there are different methodologies for calculating flu and COVID-19 deaths.
However, Jensen said other experts, including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have drawn some comparisons between COVID-19 and the flu. He said doing so provides context. Politicians and the public need to focus on having conversations and understanding others' opinions instead of "trying to pick on people," Jensen said.
The U.S. reached 130,000 COVID-19 deaths in about four months, Caplan noted. "Yeah, there are many things that cause death — but not this fast," he said.
As a family physician in the Legislature, Caplan said, Jensen should take extra care about what he says during this pandemic because people are likely turning to him for expertise.
"Don't let your politics, whatever they are, undermine the agreed-upon facts by experts in infectious disease," Caplan said. "If you're way far out of bounds from where the experts are, you shouldn't be letting your politics drive what you say. And these statements look just like that."
Jensen, who is retiring from the state Senate, has been mentioned as a potential Republican contender for governor in 2022. But he dismissed that idea Monday.
"I am not running for governor," Jensen said, adding, "I don't think I have a political future."
Since the complaints against him don't have to do with patient care, Jensen said possible outcomes for a case like this — if the complaints are validated — could be a written reprimand, continuing education or potentially asking him to refrain from social media posts.
While some cases move quickly through the review, others have taken months or years, according to the Board's outline of the process. Board members are appointed by the governor.
Complaints generally fall into four categories, according to the board: Competency matters, impairment or chemical abuse, sexual misconduct and inappropriate prescribing. Review outcomes can vary dramatically, from no action to revoking a physician's license.
Caplan said such reviews triggered by misinformation are rare.
He joked that there could be a cure for COVID-19 by the time the process wraps up, as state medical boards are prone to slow action.
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044