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Northeast Florida Senator Reboots Telehealth Debate With New Bill

Ryan Benk
Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach)

As a statewide panel of health care experts finalizes recommendations for a telemedicine regulatory framework in Florida, Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) is sponsoring a measure incorporating a number of their initial findings.

The 18-memberFlorida Telehealth Advisory Council was set up two years ago after years of contentious debate in Tallahassee over who should practice the type of medicine that allows health care providers to assess and treat patients from a distance with computers, telephones and other similar technologies. Lawmakers were also stuck on how doctors should be reimbursed and what types of telehealth services Medicaid and state-run insurance should cover.

Bean has been a consistent standard-bearer for solidifying distance medicine in Florida’s legal code and he intends to finally push it through the legislature during January’s 2018 Legislative Session.

“Telemedicine is an idea whose time has come,” he said. “It’s embracing technology that’s out there already and using technology to better treat Floridians, to get better outcomes, to do it more effectively, to do it more efficiently, to do it at less cost and still get better outcomes. It’s a triple win.”

Bean’s measure would encourage the state employee insurance plan to cover certain telehealth services, authorize the state Agency for Health Care Administration to reimburse doctors for treating Medicaid patients via telehealth technologies and it sets standards for physicians.

Under the proposal, doctors would not be able to prescribe controlled substances, like opioids or marijuana, for things like chronic nonmalignant pain, but would otherwise be held to the same existing standards for any in-person doctor’s visit.  Nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants would also be allowed to use the technology so long as it’s within their already established scope of practice.

Bean describes his bill as a blueprint, a sort of opening bid. He said he expects it to evolve after final advisory council recommendations are presented in Tallahassee and it grinds through the committee process.

“It’s going to be heavily influenced by [the Telehealth Advisory Council’s] report and it already is . . . once we get recommendations, we’ll amend the bill. We’re going to have a healthy debate,” he said.

Right now Bean’s bill limits telehealth services to Florida licensees and the measure provides for the creation of a special training program for providers wanting to diagnose patients from afar.

He said the bill has the potential to save the Sunshine State $1 billion in health care costs a year, citing a Florida Chamber of Commerce study.

The final report from the Telehealth Advisory Council is expected to be released in October.

Ryan Benk can be reached at, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.