In hopes of improving the chances of final passage for several House initiatives that have either been languishing or watered down in the Senate, a committee will consider bundling several health care proposals into two omnibus bills Thursday.
The House Health and Human Services Committee will consider two "proposed committee substitutes" during its meeting Thursday morning. Both proposals tack on less popular measures to issues that have widespread support in the Senate: assisted living facilities reforms and allowing three HCA-owned trauma centers to remain open regardless of ongoing legal challenges.
If the committee and then the full House approve the new omnibus bills, they will be sent to the Senate for consideration. Meanwhile, the Senate is moving forward with its bills that keep the issues separate.
House Speaker Will Weatherford said he supports the decision of committee Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, to combine these various health care proposals into one.
"I wouldn't say they're necessarily the priorities, but I would say they're important pieces of legislation," said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "I think Chair Corcoran just felt like some of these issues are related to each other and sometimes it's easier to send one omnibus package over to the Senate as opposed to a bunch of individual bills."
Rep. Mia Jones, the ranking Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee, said she would have preferred keeping the measures separate. Asked about one of the proposals that takes the widely popular the trauma bill and adds language expanding types of services highly trained nurses can perform and regulation of virtual medical visits, Jones said she still needed to make up her mind.
"I haven't made a determination yet," said Jones, of Jacksonville. "But I know there are some things that I voted against in other committees, and if they've addressed the issues that I have in those particular sections then I'll be okay. If not, then depending on what the provision is, I may have to be down on the bill."
Here is a breakdown of the two proposals and the topics they incorporate:
Proposed committee substitute for House Bill 537
Existing language: strengthens the enforcement of current regulations for assisted living facilities, similar to SB 248 that was approved unanimously in the Senate and is waiting on House consideration.
What the 105-page omnibus proposal adds:
* A limited grandparent visitation law. This language is also contained in SB 750 and HB 789, which both still have two more committees of reference.
* Amending state law to allow patients to remain at ambulatory surgical centers overnight and up to 24 hours; creating a new licensure designation for recovery care centers that attend to patients for up to 72 hours. HB 7111 has the same language and is on its final committee stop; it has no Senate companion.
Notes: The staff analysis warns that the bill could violate a provision in the Florida Constitution that requires new laws to stick to one subject matter. The grandparent visitation portion may be too much of a stretch.
Proposed committee substitute for House Bill 7113
Existing language: Allows three HCA-owned trauma centers to remain in operation, nullifying ongoing court challenges. Similar to SB 1276, which has its final committee hearing Thursday afternoon.
What the 41-page omnibus proposal adds:
* On the trauma issue, it creates a one-year, $15,000 cap on trauma activation fees and requires hospitals to post their activation fee amounts inside trauma centers and on their websites.
* Allows highly skilled nurses to practice without being supervised by a physician, similar to HB 7071, which hasn't been heard in committee since introduction. The Senate version allows these nurses to prescribe controlled substances and involuntarily institutionalize patients with mental health issues, but stops short of allowing them to practice independently. SB 1352 barely passed its first committee and has two more stops before it reaches the full Senate.
* Allows almost any type of medical professional to treat patients virtually, similar to HB 751. The Senate version, SB 1646, focuses just on physicians, pharmacists, physician assistants and highly trained nurses. Both measures have one more committee stop before they are ready for floor votes.