Florida House passes 'free-market' health care options

Published Mar. 3, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — A series of free-market health care reform proposals passed the Florida House on Wednesday.

Taken together, the changes are the bulk of the House's health care agenda, which Republican leaders in the chamber have emphasized since the Medicaid expansion debate last summer. Their goal is to cut regulations, hoping that will encourage greater competition, decrease costs and increase access to health care.

On Wednesday, the House passed these proposals with broad support from Republicans and Democrats:

• Setting rules for telemedicine, which allows out-of-state doctors to use technology to serve patients in Florida, and clarifying that it is legal. (HB 7087)

• Allowing people to contract directly with doctors to pay for primary care without involving insurance companies. Those choosing this option would still need to have some level of health coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act. (HB 37)

• Giving advanced registered nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants the right to prescribe narcotics and other drugs. Lawmakers named the bill after longtime Florida Nurses Association lobbyist Barbara Lumpkin. (HB 423)

• Creating recovery centers that can care for patients for 72 hours after surgery. They also extended the amount of time patients can stay at ambulatory surgical centers to 24 hours. (HB 85)

One of the approved bills creates sweeping price transparency requirements (HB 1175), which supporters say would allow patients to better shop for non-emergency coverage. They didn't include strict restrictions advocated by Gov. Rick Scott intended to stop "price-gouging" at hospitals.

The House also passed a bill meant to protect consumers from "balance billing," a practice by doctors to directly bill patients for services not covered by insurance, which often happens when hospitals contract with outside doctors.

It has been pushed by insurance companies and consumer advocates but opposed by many doctor groups. Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Sarasota, one of the few doctors in the House, was among those opponents.

"The solution we came up with is: Doctors, you will be hampered in your ability to negotiate with insurers," he said.

Not voted on yet is the elimination of the state's certificate of need licensing program for hospitals, which the Senate has opposed.

The Senate's balance billing proposal was bogged down Wednesday in a series of amendments that led sponsor Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, to postpone its consideration.

However, some of the House's other health care priorities, such as transparency, could pass the Senate.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, indicated there was some doubt the chamber would take up any of the House health care proposals. "But they are, I believe, on the calendar and ready to go."

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporter Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report. Contact Michael Auslen at Follow @MichaelAuslen.