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Florida Lawmakers Pushing Bill to Expand Telehealth Services

By Ryan Mcaskill

A new bill working its way through the Florida senate would increase the use of telehealth service throughout the state.

While the use of telemedicine is starting to pick up across the healthcare landscape, federal and state policy is still playing catch-up.

The biggest hurdle facing these strategies is reimbursement from systems including Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. Currently, 47 states require funding at some level for telemedicine but in only 21 states and the District of Columbia, a telehealth appointment is compensated at the same rate as an in person appointment.

This week, the Florida state Senate Health Policy Committee votes unanimously (8-0) to approve a new telemedicine bill (SB 478), that would allow the state to fully embrace telehealth. The bill was originally filed on January 22, 2015 and has been discussed for the last few weeks. February 17 was the first vote on the bill.

There have been several changes made to the piece of legislation since it was originally proposed, to give it a better chance of passing both the House and Senate. These include using the “telehealth” label, eliminating language that would give authority to medical boards to adopt rules to carry out the law and not allowing telehealth to be used for eye care.

A summary of the new bill reads:

Telemedicine Services; Authorizing an emergency medical technician, a paramedic, or a healthcare practitioner to provide telemedicine services through the use of certain telecommunications technology to a patient who is a resident of this state; requiring telemedicine services to be covered by specified Medicaid programs in the same manner as services provided to a recipient in person; prohibiting the regulation of telemedicine services from being construed to restrict the delivery of certain emergency medical services, etc

“I believe this is a good first step for a new kind of coverage for patients. I am wondering how many physicians and health-care providers will participate if there is no payment,” state Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood), told the Saint Peters Blog.

Senate Health Policy Committee Chairman state Sen. Aaron Bean, (R-Fernandina Beach), added that this is about more than reimbursement. Specifically this is an opportunity to set the “private sector loose on going forward with telemedicine.” he added this this is the year that legislation that adds legal framework for telehealth gets done.

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, a version of this bill was proposed in 2014 but was rejected because of disagreements over compensation. During revisions for the current bill, language was removed that requires insurance providers to pay telehealth at the same rate as in-person care. This is something that the Florida Insurance Council has lobbied against. The removal of this language increases the chances of the bill passing.

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