Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

Healthcare deregulation measures passed by Florida Legislature

The votes, which advance parts of the healthcare agenda that has dominated House Speaker José Oliva’s priorities this session, also inch Gov. Ron DeSantis closer to a major win on the drug importation proposal he has pushed in the Florida Legislature.
Published Apr. 29
Updated Apr. 29

TALLAHASSEE -- State lawmakers approved sweeping healthcare changes Monday that will overturn long-standing regulations on building or expanding hospitals and allow the state to pursue importing foreign drugs, as well as make several other changes long sought by conservatives in the Legislature.

The votes signal success for several agenda items House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, has outlined in healthcare this session, and the bills are expected to become law as they head now to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

“This is going to go down as a historic day in the state of Florida,” said House healthcare chief Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, Monday night, nodding to the roughly dozen House proposals that were rolled into four bills passed by both chambers.

He cast the growing healthcare budget as an existential threat to Florida’s economic stability — “If we don’t get control of the rising cost of healthcare it will take over the budget” — and added that the deregulatory changes would cement its reputation as a bellwether state for policy making.

“What happens in Florida gets noticed by the rest of the country,” he said.

Senators debated the bills briefly Monday morning before passing them largely on party lines, with supporters casting the proposals as efforts to modernize healthcare operations and remove burdensome regulations on facilities. The House took up the bills later Monday evening and passed them with the Senate’s changes intact.

Chief among those bills was HB 21, which would remove long-targeted regulations that require healthcare facilities to obtain approval from the state before adding buildings or services. This year, Oliva had made repealing the “certificate of need” system his top legislative item, and the House passed a broad measure completely removing the requirement for hospitals, nursing homes and hospices.

The Senate had initially pushed a much more restrictive repeal version limited only to general hospitals, and set a bevy of requirements on hospitals that could circumvent the approval process: having emergency rooms or minimum bed requirements, and providing charity care as well as care to Medicaid and Medicare patients. But in its last committee stop, those requirements were stripped from the bill as top leaders negotiated for their priorities.

The version passed by the Senate, then again by the House, would apply to general hospitals and tertiary services (like transplants and neonatal intensive-care units) starting in July. Specialty hospitals, such as pediatric hospitals, would also no longer be subject to the regulations starting in 2021.

Supporters say repealing the requirements will open up hospitals to more free market competition that will lower costs and improve care, though opponents have contended lower caseloads at hospitals will weaken providers’ training for complex cases and draw away paying patients that some hospitals need to offset their charity care and less lucrative Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.

Lawmakers also voted to approve HB 19, a DeSantis-backed proposal to allow Florida to pursue importing prescription drugs from abroad. The proposal would direct the state to ask federal officials for permission as required under a 2003 federal law, and open up three pathways for bringing medication in from different countries.

One would authorize the state Agency for Health Care Administration to bring drugs in from Canada for state purposes, serving entities like the Department of Corrections or Medicaid patients. Another would create a broader international program under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for commercial use, and a third would create a pilot program overseen by DBPR and the Department of Health that would not need federal approval.

DeSantis had lobbied for weeks for lawmakers to approve the bill, despite hundreds of thousands of dollars pharmaceutical interests had poured into ads criticizing the proposal as unsafe and dangerous. On the floor Monday, Senate sponsor Sen. Aaron Bean decried the claims and said the programs if implemented could save patients substantial amounts of money on prescription drug costs.

Though Vermont passed a similar plan last year, the federal government has not yet approved any state-level program to bring in drugs from abroad. Even if federal authorities authorize Florida to pursue foreign importation — something they have never done in 16 years — the Senate version of the bill still requires the first two programs to return to the Legislature for funding approval.

HB 23, another oft-proposed bill to set standards for “telehealth” services where healthcare providers could deliver care online or through other technology remotely, also passed both chambers easily. The bill creates regulations that would govern how telehealth can be conducted, and the version approved by lawmakers permits providers out of state to offer those services to Floridians if they register to the state, with some exceptions. The House had also advanced about $30 million in tax incentives to encourage insurers to adopt telehealth measures, but the Senate did not include those measures in its version.

Lawmakers voted unanimously in both chambers for HB 843, which tackled more than half a dozen healthcare proposals that had started in the House. Among them were adding requirements that patients be notified if they are put on observation status rather than admitted to a hospital outright, allowing patients to stay at outpatient surgical centers overnight rather than until midnight and expanding the definition of direct care agreements.

The bill was also amended to include language that would strengthen oversight of pediatric cardiac surgery programs, after reporting that included a Tampa Bay Times investigation that revealed deaths and other issues at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Heart Institute in St. Petersburg.

Oliva, after the bills passed, touted the Legislature’s deregulatory moves as transformational. But he added that other bills are still awaiting hearings in either chamber and that he intends to continue to focus on healthcare legislation into next year’s session.

“There’s still a great deal of work to do on healthcare,” he told reporters. “It’s not a problem that was created overnight, and it won’t be resolved overnight.”

The passage of several of Oliva’s priorities also signal the convergence of leadership priorities that often accompanies the final days of lawmaking — and agreement on the sprawling state budget — before legislators head back to their districts. The session is scheduled to end Friday, May 3.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Kerry Kriseman, right, beside husband Mayor Rick Kriseman. Kerry Kriseman announced Friday she has cancer. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]
    Kerry Kriseman announced the news Friday on Facebook. She said the prognosis is good.
  2. The walkable waterfront hamlet of Apalachicola, founded in 1831 on Apalachicola Bay, is shrouded in overcast on Tuesday. The town is home to oyster boats and shrimp boats which make their daily pilgrimages into the seafood-rich bay. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
    Florida filed the lawsuit against Georgia in 2013, though battles about water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system date to the 1990s.
  3. At the request of a state lawmaker, Citizens Property Insurance Co.’s board is again bringing in an outside evaluator to help the insurer decide if and how to cull its policyholder base. Pictured is  Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) (left) and Barry Gilway, CEO of Citizens. [Courtesy of Sen. Jeff Brandes and Citizens Property Insurance Co.]
    At the request of St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes, the insurer will look for ways to shrink.
  4. Blackwater River Correctional Facility. [Florida Department of Corrections]
    An audit spells out how short-term savings, realized between 2011 and 2014, are now costing taxpayers millions and leading to settlements from successful class-action lawsuits on behalf of inmates.
  5. Yuma, the Florida panther cub, explores his new enclosure at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in 2014. The young panther will live out his days at the park after being rescued in January 2014 from the wild near Naples at about one-week of age. He had been abandoned. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park had a ceremony Thursday morning with a couple speeches explaining Yuma's circumstances which were followed by a brief countdown for the opening of a gate allowing Yuma to enter his new enclosure. [DAMASKE, JIM   |  Tampa Bay Times]
    It would “basically be a disaster for the panther,” a federal biologist wrote in assessment.
  6. A trial court ruling barring two women from entering an Orlando strip club without a man has caused a constitutional chain reaction. Miami Beach argues that local human rights ordinances are under attack, and the city is leading an effort to overturn the ruling. [STEVEN JOHNSON | Miami Herald]
    On Thursday, Miami Beach led a coalition of 21 municipalities, including Tampa, Pinellas County and Dunedin, in filing a brief urging the overturn of a May decision voiding local protections of civil...
  7. This Feb. 19 photo shows a makeshift memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting in Parkland. [AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File]
    The grand jury said districts are creating “unnecessary chaos” and have become “experts at data manipulation.”
  8. Council member Ed Montanari, left, was elected St. Petersburg City Council chair for 2020. Council member Gina Driscoll was voted vice-chair. [Times (2019)]
    The chairman guides the council through meetings and generally speak last on issues.
  9. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) [ALEX BRANDON  |  AP]
    Gaetz declined a breathalyzer test, but the charges were dropped anyway.
  10. Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, presents his bill on civics education to the House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee on Dec. 11, 2019. The legislation received unanimous bipartisan support. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport,’ sponsor Rep. Ben Diamond reminds colleagues.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement