LISTEN LIVE

Florida Legislature Eyes Health Care Reform

Mar 2, 2019
Originally published on March 1, 2019 4:10 pm

As health care continues to take up a growing slice of the state’s budget, House Speaker Jose Oliva has set his eyes on market reform. 

Just moments after being sworn in as the next speaker of the house,  Jose Oliva (R-Hialeah) made clear health care would be a key legislative priority.

“When I got elected in 2011, health care was 33 percent of our budget," Oliva told reporters. "That was pretty alarming back then. This year it will be 48 [percent]. I mean, something clearly is not working. And adding more money to that won’t help.” 

At the center of bringing costs down, according to Oliva, is expanding patients’ access to care. This is especially true in rural North Florida and low-income communities where hospitals and doctors are sparse.

One solution lawmakers keep coming back to is affording nurse practitioners more discretion. 

“That’s an issue of access," said Oliva. "If you let people practice to the extent of their training, you will create greater access in the rural areas and in other areas that maybe doctors cannot get to.” 

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-Tampa) is leading the charge in the Senate, and the House effort is being carried by Rep. Cary Pigman (R-Sebring).

Another measure aimed at expanding care is a bill that would broaden services offered by ambulatory surgical centers. Commonly known as outpatient surgery centers, they provide less serious care than hospitals and are required to discharge patients on the same working day.

A measure filed by Stuart Republican Senator Gayle Harrell would allow outpatient centers to keep patients for up to 24 hours.

"I think this is a very important step forward," said Harrell. "It’s going to truly reduce costs. It will reduce Medicaid costs by allowing those patients not to be transferred when they really don’t need to be transferred.”

Speaker Oliva also hopes to scale back a regulatory requirement known as a certificate of need.

Certain health care providers – like hospitals and nursing homes – have to apply for state approval before they can add or expand services.

Lawmakers have cut back on many of these requirements over the last two decades, and the House poised to hear another rollback proposal this session.

Oliva has spoken out against what he calls the “hospital-industrial complex,” but the measure could face friction in the Senate. Senate President Bill Galvano is taking a more balanced approach and urges caution.

Gov. Ron DeSantis' legislative priorities largely center around health care affordability.

Earlier this month, DeSantis announced plans to import prescription drugs from Canada under the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act.

“Basically, what we’re going to be doing," DeSantis said, "is recognizing that some of these same drugs, if you were just in Canada, would be a fraction of the price that you pay here."

DeSantis said he hopes this will shrink state spending on Medicaid and on prescriptions for prisoners.

Galvano, however, is less optimistic.

“I’m all about safe, more affordable prescriptions," said Galvano. "But we have to cautious that we’re not trying to legislate at the state level that which is the province of the federal government.” 

DeSantis called for greater cost transparency efforts.

He endorsed a pair of bills by Sen. Manny Diaz (R-Hialeah Gardens) and Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) dubbed the Patient Savings Act (SB 524 and HB 113).

The measure would encourage patients to shop around for the lowest price, and would give them a portion of the money saved by opting for cheaper treatment. 

Abortion restrictions are also again on the table.

Rep. Mike Hill (R-Pensacola) is proposing a so-called "fetal heartbeat" bill that would ban abortion procedures once a "fetal heartbeat has been detected." 

Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Lady Lake) is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

DeSantis has signaled he would sign the measure if passed.

It would be a test for the newly-conservative state Supreme Court. It has struck down many abortion restrictions in recent years.

For more news updates, follow Shawn Mulcahy on Twitter: @ShawnDMulcahy.

Copyright 2019 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.