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Bipartisan Cooperation Could Boost State Adoption of Telemedicine

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LHatter
/
WFSU News

A bi-partisan group of Florida lawmakers in the House and Senate say they’re feeling good about the chances for telemedicine in the state. More and more physicians  are using video conferencing to see patients remotely, and lawmakers and healthcare providers say it’s time the state caught up to the technology.

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Tallahassee Memorial Hospital has been a telemedicine leader in Florida. Last year the hospital gave a live demonstration to show how House lawmakers how the technology works. TMH’s Lauren Faison says the hospital was almost successful in getting funding for a pilot program to address health disparities in North Florida. “Almost” is the key word.

"We wanted to show how telemedicine could break down barriers and create a true health system…unfortunately that allocation was vetoed by the governor, but we’re going to try and get a similar study funded this year," she says.

TMH plans to try again, and the hospital it’s still running a telehealth program.  But it’s limited in how it can use the technology. Most private insurance companies in Florida don’t recognize the service and its nowhere in Florida law. TMH and other hospitals and health care centers want to use telemedicine to extend their reach to more patients in rural areas. Many of those are low-income patents who use the state-backed Medicaid insurance program. Telemedicine isn’t covered there either. And as a result providers can’t get paid for their services:

"Right now...the only way a physician can be paid is if they’re providing services to a rural patient who is covered under Medicare," Faison says. "No other state providers or Medicaid, is reimbursing for telemedicine.”

Lawmakers now say they believe that have a solution.

“We’re going to authorize it that that will be a successful visit to a provider seeing a Medicaid patient," says Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville).  He's part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers determined to swing the pendulum in favor of telemedicine in the state. Several bills now pending in the legislature address the issues providers have complained about—like allowing Medicaid to pay for telemedicine visits. Bean wants to see that happen. But now that Medicaid is privatized, and administered by private insurance groups, Bean says it will be up to them to negotiate rates.

“We hope to give flexibility to the provider on what that’s worth. It may be different from a Florida Blue to an AETNA to a United. They all may pay it differently whatever their program or their plan, covers.” 

Another longstanding roadblock for telemedicine has been which doctors can see Florida patients. Last year the physician lobby group-the Florida Medical Association helped kill a telemedicine bill due to disputes on whether out-of-state doctors could participate Sanford Republican Representative Jason Brodeur says this year, they’ve worked it out:

“A provider has to be licensed in the state of Florida. The second is that those who practice can’t practice beyond their scope of care. Meaning, you can’t face-time with someone in Europe and expect that Florida Blue of AvMed is going to reimburse for that.

Supporters of the telemedicine legislation say they’re hopeful if it passes, it will encourage broader adoption of the technology and push private insurance companies to cover telehealth visits.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories here.