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'Train' Bill Includes Hospital for Jax

As the House and Senate head toward a collision over trauma centers in late April, a proposal to let UF Health Jacksonville build a new hospital was added to the House health-care "train," HB 7113. reports that the big new bundled bill includes a provision that would allow for construction of a new hospital near Jacksonville International Airport.  That would override a ruling by an administrative judge who said a hospital at that site would create too big a financial loss to Memorial Hospital.

UF Health Jacksonville would be the apparent beneficiary, if the House bill prevails. It was the applicant to build the 100-bed suburban facility to bring in more paying patients to help support its main location, which is heavy on indigent care.  The proposal did not make it through the state's "certificate of need" process, as required for new hospitals.

As Health News Florida reported on Thursday, the House Health & Human Services Committee passed a much larger version of HB 7113 than had originally been filed. It includes three controversial issues:

--The grandfathering of three HCA trauma centers that were built without state permission, a much-lobbied issue opposed by long-established non-profit trauma centers that fear the paying patients will be lost to HCA. This was the subject of the original HB 7113.

--A pathway to independent practice for nurse practitioners, freeing them from having to contract with and pay physicians to develop a practice protocol. The Florida Medical Association fiercely opposes this, and the Senate version allows nurse practitioners to prescribe controlled drugs but not practice independently.

--A legal structure for telehealth, which would allow long-distance medical consults between health-care professionals and patients. The Senate version, in line with FMA's position, would require the out-of-state doctors to get a Florida medical license in order to participate -- a barrier that would be crippling to growth of the new technology, proponents say.

As News Service of Floridareports, the Senate version of the trauma-center bill also grandfathers in the three trauma centers. That signals the three -- at Blake Medical Center in Manatee County, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County and Ocala Regional Medical Center in Marion County -- may be safe.

But the Senate bill is a stand-alone, and it is not at all clear the Senate will swallow the House version of the telehealth and nurse practitioner proposals. That means a collision is almost certain before the end of the session May 2.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.