How private is your application information, and can the FAA use it against you?
We live in a polarized world, so I wasn’t too surprised that responses were bunched on both sides of the spectrum regarding my disappointment at the “driver’s license” medical we got in the form of BasicMed. While some readers applauded my tell-it-like-it-is look at this new approach to pilot medical certification, others were adamant that I was too negative in not cheering for this change.
Believe me, I’d love to be thrilled with the new process, and I would be...if it were what we were promised originally, but it’s not. We all expected the new approach to the third-class medical to be just like the Sport Pilot medical, a true driver’s license medical that we’re personally in charge of overseeing. No doctor visits, no FAA looking over our shoulder, no filling in long forms detailing our medical histories. But instead we get all of the bad stuff with BasicMed and not enough of the LSA Sport Pilot good stuff.
When you step back a few yards and look at BasicMed, it appears almost indistinguishable from the third class medical process. You fill out your medical history, you visit a doctor, the doctor examines you, the doctor says “yes” or “no” to your application, and you carry around a piece of paper that shows you went through the process. There is, in fact, an additional hurdle with BasicMed that the traditional process lacks, the requirement to complete an online education course. I’m not saying if the course is bad or good, but it is an extra step.
I admit that the costs will be low, in some cases negligible for some pilots, but it will cost about the same or be slightly more expensive than a visit to the aviation medical examiner for others. But again, that’s a matter of degree and not essence.
What I want is simple: to have nothing to do with the FAA when it comes to my medical certification, to use my driver’s license, go to the airport and go flying. Basically, I want the government out of my medical life when it comes to flying small airplanes. With Light Sport Aircraft, I get that. With BasicMed, not even close.
There is one big advantage to BasicMed, and that is you can get by with several conditions that an AME would find disqualifying, or prompt a request for a special issuance. For pilots affected by the absurdly strict disqualification guidelines for a third-class medical, BasicMed is a godsend. For the rest of us, again, not so much.
And there appear to be risks that no one is talking about. The biggest is this: How might the FAA use the information we supply on our BasicMed applications to come after our pilot’s certificates? The FAA documentation on the subject is vague, seemingly intentionally so. They say that Congress mandated that the FAA get data on pilots who apply for BasicMed but refrain from saying what that data is. When I asked a representative from AOPA if, to the best of his understanding, the FAA could pursue enforcement action against a pilot based on his or her BasicMed application, the answer they gave was, yes, in certain circumstances, it could. I’m still waiting for answers to my follow up questions on the subject.
Lots of pilots hate the FAA form because they feel that little white lies about their medial history put them at great risk, and they’re right. While the FAA seldom pursues legal action against pilots for false statements on their medical forms, when they have, it was with felony prosecutions.
So, could the FAA match up BasicMed application forms with previous FAA medical application forms to see if there are any discrepancies? And does BasicMed make a pilot’s health record a matter of public record? This history includes visits to regular doctors, and to hospitals, the treatment received, prescriptions given, and treatment recommended, all information that normally is protected from government snooping by HIPPA. Does BasicMed continue to provide pilots this protection?
We don’t know, though we’re asking. And the answers to these questions, it seems to me, are critical for pilots weighing the decision to go with BasicMed or to stick to the clunky but well understood old approach to medical certification.