School bus drivers in North Carolina are now required to carry a medical card in addition to their license at all times. Bus drivers have to pass, and pay for, a medical examination to receive their medical card at least once every two years.
Previous North Carolina law didn’t allow employers to know the drivers' medical conditions because of health information privacy concerns, outlined in HIPAA legislation.
Now, drivers must have a medical exam performed by an approved doctor to determine if they’re fit to drive.
In Orange County, the costs for a driver’s medical exam are estimated to be around $85, according to Orange County Schools’ Chief Operations Officer Patrick Abele.
“We’re fully supportive of the process — our concern is the funding,” Abele said. “It’s a mandate that’s required, but there hasn’t been additional appropriations.”
The Orange County School Board decided to cover the costs of the medical examinations for all bus drivers in the Orange County School District at a meeting in January.
The school board had concerns about the costs for drivers to obtain their medical cards in addition to having a shortage of drivers in the state over the past several years, Abele said.
According to the minutes from the meeting, the expected initial costs will be $15,200. The school system plans to have the state cover the expense through its State Transportation Funds.
“We want to be the first choice for families and the first choice for employees,” Abele said.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District’s Assistant Superintendent, Rydell Harrison, said in an email that their school system will also pay the costs of the required medical examinations.
“The new requirements, while aimed at enhancing safety, are making it difficult to hire drivers and staff vacant positions,” Harrison said.
The Orange County School System shared Harrison’s fear that the new law could deter potential employees, Abele said.
The law was passed by the General Assembly in January 2018, but currently only applies to new drivers.
“One thing we’ve tried to do is get as many of our current drivers renewed before the law is fully implemented in January 2021,” Abele said.
The General Assembly’s statute says if a driver doesn’t provide the correct medical documentation, “The Division shall automatically downgrade a commercial driver’s license to a class C regular driver’s license.”
Drivers are required to renew their medical card at least every two years, but certain medical conditions require additional medical exams twice a year. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s official Medical Examination Report includes diabetes, vision, hearing and arthritis as some of the conditions with special requirements.
The Orange County School District is prepared to pay for medical exams up to twice a year for each bus driver due to these requirements, Abele said.
The Medical Examination Report also requires all medical conditions be recorded, even if they don’t affect the employee’s ability to drive.
Abele said the negative effects of the law are not yet apparent, but are expected to appear in six to 12 months.
The Orange County School System has asked the state for joint contracts for the medical examinations to reduce the costs for each school district, but have not yet heard back. Abele said the joint contracts would reduce the funding problem of this law.
“We’re just trying to help the drivers out as much as we can," Abele said.
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