HARRISBURG, Pa. — A man who told his doctors that he drinks more than a six-pack of beer per day is now fighting to get his driver’s license back because the physicians apparently reported him to the state.
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Keith Emerich, 44, said Tuesday that he disclosed his drinking habit in February to doctors who were treating him at a hospital for an irregular heartbeat.
“I told them it was over a six-pack a day. It wasn’t good for me — I’m not going to lie,” Emerich said in a telephone interview from his home in Lebanon, about 30 miles east of Harrisburg.
Emerich received a notice from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in April that his license was being revoked effective May 6 for medical reasons related to substance abuse. He has petitioned a judge to restore the license, and a hearing has been set for July 29.
A state law dating to the 1960s requires doctors to report any physical or mental impairments that could compromise a patient’s ability to drive safely, PennDOT spokeswoman Joan Nissley said. Nissley said she could not discuss the details of Emerich’s case because of confidentiality requirements that also protect the doctor from being identified.
The law requires revocation of the license until the driver can prove he is competent to drive.
Emerich said his heart problem has prompted him to limit his beer drinking to weekends. Aside from a drunken-driving conviction when he was 21, Emerich, a pressman at a printshop who lives alone, said he has a clean driving record and does not drink and drive.
“What I do in the privacy of my own home is none of PennDOT’s business,” he said.
Asked if he considered his client to be alcoholic, Horace Ehrgood, Emerich’s attorney, said: “It depends on what your definition is.”
“He’s been able to go to work, and he’s got a heck of a nice work record. He’s been able to function in all other avenues of life,” the lawyer said.
Pennsylvania’s transportation agency receives about 40,000 medical reports and revokes 5,000 to 6,000 licenses a year but does not keep any statistics on its reasons for doing so, Nissley said. She also said she did not know how many revocations get appealed.
Pennsylvania is one of six states that require doctors to report motorists with medical conditions that could affect their driving, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. The other states are California, Delaware, Oregon, Nevada, and New Jersey.
All other states and the District of Columbia allow physicians to submit reports on a voluntary basis.
Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a San Diego-based watchdog group, said cases like Emerich’s highlight a tension between medical privacy and public safety.
“Certainly, cases like this could lead individuals to refrain from giving their doctors adequate information to treat them,” Givens said.
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