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Northeast Florida Representatives To Sponsor Telehealth Bill Again In 2016

Ryan Benk

Federal Communications commissioners came to Jacksonville’s Mayo Clinic Thursday to discuss telemedicine.

The discussion touched on ways to expand telehealth in rural areas that lack access to reliable Internet.

The biggest roadblock to telemedicine in Florida has more to do with political will than technology.

The FCC’s Jacksonville telemedicine conference was the second in the Sunshine State this week.

Just as they did in Miami, FCC commissioners, health providers, and tech companies like Microsoft discussed emerging trends in telehealth.

FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn said distance medicine is useless if rural citizens lack the means to connect.

“What challenges we have, meaning connecting senior citizens, connecting those who have some form of disability to broadband,” Clyburn said. “Then their outcomes will be extremely limited when it comes to health services and wellness care.”

Still, without consensus on telehealth regulation in Tallahassee, Rep. Mia Jones (D-Jacksonville) said Florida continues to be behind the curve.

“In Florida we don't have a system in place that would ensure that if an organization put in place telemedicine, that they would be paid for it,” Jones said.

Florida hospitals cannot be reimbursed by insurers for telehealth services.

The Legislature has tried for years to pass a framework making that possible, but disagreements about who could practice telemedicine, what services they could offer and how much they could charge kept bills from passing.

During the regular 2015 session it seemed a bipartisan effort to pass a telemedicine bill was gaining traction. But the Senate objected to the House’s inclusion of optometry as a practice that could consult patients using the technology and the effort was derailed.

This year Jones says she and Senate Health Policy Chairman Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) will sponsor telehealth legislation again. 

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.