Senate Panel Challenges AFP's Position On Telemedicine, Other Health Policies

Apr 14, 2015

A Florida Senate health committee is the latest to sign off on a proposal trying to increase the use of telemedicine in the state. But the conversation in the Senate’s health policy briefly veered off into a terse exchange with the political action group –Americans for Prosperity.

The limited-government and pro-business political action group, Americans For Prosperity is catching flak in the Senate for mailers criticizing lawmakers on the chamber’s healthcare policies—mainly its support of accepting federal Medicaid dollars. But parts of those mailers, says Senate Health Appropriations Committee Chairman, Rene Garcia, aren’t true. And Tuesday Garcia grilled an AFP-Florida spokeswoman about the contents of those mailers:

“But then in that same mail piece, it said, why doesn’t the senate have the conversation about telemedicine, number one? And the second one was scope-of practice issues?  Why did you deceive the voters of my district saying I had not had those conversations or I was against those issues?” He asked AFP lobbyist Melissa Fause.

“Unfortunately, it seems that maybe our intent didn’t come through on the mailers," Fause replied.

"Our message has been the Senate is already engaging in a lot of amazing policies that will deal with some of these issues, and we’d rather the Senate focus on those rather than pursuing this path toward Medicaid expansion.”  

The mailers have been going out to the constituents of most of the chambers’ Republican members criticizing them on votes favoring a senate plan to use federal money to steer some 800-thousand uninsured Floridians into private health plans. It’s the Senate’s version of Medicaid expansion.  Wellington Republican Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto also got a mailer from AFP.

“I’m glad to hear you say all that and I received a mailer in my district as well. I think 23 of us did. And since you put on the record that the Senate is engaged in some really amazing policies, would you mind sending a mailer to all our constituents you sent the original mailer too, suggesting we’re engaged in some 'really amazing' policy development and follow up on your comments here at this committee?”  Benacquisto said to Fause.

There are bills in the legislature that would also allow some highly-skilled and trained nurses to see patients independent of doctors, and there’s even a measure that would allow some primary care doctors to be paid directly by their patients, instead of collecting through insurance.  AFP supports that legislation, including telemedicine.

Telemedicine, or telehealth as it’s called, is the use of technology that connects physicians to patients remotely. The proposal puts telemedicine into state law, and paves the way for providers to be paid for telemedicine services. But there are some exceptions in the Senate bill. For one, physicians would be largely unable to provide chronic pain medications except in very limited circumstances, and optometrists also got a carve out—meaning, they are exempt from the telehealth rules. That’s something the James Madison Institute’s Sal Nuzzo sees as problematic:

“In a bill intended to improve healthcare access, outcomes and cost savings, It doesn’t make sense to restrict Florida eye care professionals’ ability to prescribe eyeglasses and contacts using telehealth; the bottom line: this will freeze eye health innovation and limit providers’ options to deliver quality care to Florida residents.”   

There is no similar language in the House version of the bill. This isn’t the first time lawmakers are trying to work on the telehealth issue. A similar bill failed last year. But bill sponsor, Jacksonville Republican Aaron Bean, remains optimistic:

“It took a while to get this bill right and I think we’re getting closer. Last year we tried to do everything for everybody," he said.

The telemedicine bill is a priority of Bean’s and its garnered bipartisan support as it has moved in the House and Senate. It has one more committee stop in the Senate and is awaiting a final hearing before a House Health committee as well.