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Telehealth Gains Favor in Florida

The Sunshine State is moving forward with a telehealth task force, designed to analyze barriers and payer reimbursement.

By Eric Wicklund

- Count Florida among the states embracing telemedicine, though the move toward reimbursement parity may take a few years.

The Sunshine State’s House and Senate recently passed legislation – almost unanimously in both chambers – to create a Telehealth Advisory Council, overseen by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). The council’s main goal is to produce a report by December 1, 2018, that outlines how telemedicine can be expanded in the state, and what barriers might need to be removed.

That report will include a comprehensive examination of commercial insurance coverage for telemedicine in the state. The new legislation mandates that the AHCA and the state Department of Health’s Office of Insurance Regulation survey how commercial payers are currently covering telehealth services, and what reimbursement rates they’re paying to Florida providers. That survey is due on June 30, 2018, and providers and insurers who fail or refuse to provide information for the survey can face fines and penalties.

The Florida Legislature’s actions are “a great step forward for providers of telehealth services,” said Nathanial M. Lacktman, an attorney with the Foley & Lardner law firm and an acknowledged national expert on telehealth legislation. Writing in Lexology, he noted that 29 states and the District of Columbia now mandate that commercial insurers cover telehealth services to the same extent as in-person services.

“Continued expansions in reimbursement mean providers can enhance telehealth offerings, both for the immediate cost savings and growing opportunities for revenue generation, to say nothing of patient quality and satisfaction,” he wrote.

Florida’s legislators have worked for several years to tackle telemedicine regulations, often coming up with competing bills that couldn’t pass muster in both chambers. This latest bill came about only after the Senate scaled back a more aggressive House bill, adding in the telehealth task force and modifying requirements for out-of-state telehealth providers.

Foley noted the Florida legislation mirrors efforts by Congress to analyze Medicare coverage of telehealth services. In last April’s Doc Fix Bill, he noted, Congress called on the Government Accountability Office to produce two reports – due in April 2017 – that analyze national telehealth programs and their coverage by Medicare.

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