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Telehealth Tax Credits Draw Criticism

Doctor speaks to patient on an online live chat
Nemours Children's Hospital- YouTube
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Some Democratic lawmakers Wednesday assailed a proposal to boost the use of telehealth as a giveaway to insurance companies, suggesting that the legislation violates oft-repeated pledges of House Republicans that they don’t want to pick “winners and losers” in the economy. 

The GOP-controlled House is primed Thursday to pass the bill (HB 23), which is part of House Speaker Jose Oliva’s ambitious plans to overhaul the health-care system.

During a floor discussion Wednesday, Democrats were skeptical of the measure because it includes tax credits for the insurance industry. House Democrats twice tried to alter the $30 million in tax breaks, which they unsuccessfully argued would interfere with the free market.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who sponsored amendments that sought to alter the tax breaks, said she wanted to improve the bill by removing what she described as “corporate welfare.”

One amendment would have required the Legislature to revisit the tax breaks after five years.

“We can have some fiscal responsibility here. The corporate welfare component will still exist, but at the very least there is a timeline to it being eliminated and perhaps an evaluation to reassess,” she said.

But bill sponsor Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville called the tax breaks an “investment” that the state should make in telehealth services.

That amendment failed on a 70-41 vote.

Eskamani’s second amendment would have deleted the tax breaks from the bill altogether. It also was shot down after Yarborough described it as unfriendly.

Telehealth, a term insurance companies have coined, involves using the internet and other technology to provide services to patients remotely. Telehealth is not a type of health-care service but rather is a mode to deliver services.

In December 2016, the Agency for Health Care Administration issued the findings of a survey it helped conduct. The results showed that 45 percent of hospitals said they provided telehealth, while only 6 percent of practitioners, such as physicians, did.

A state-created task force submitted a report in October 2017 recommending ways to jump-start telehealth. Chief among those recommendations was a requirement that insurance companies reimburse physicians for telehealth services.

A key issue is whether physicians will get reimbursed the same amounts for telehealth services as they get for providing in-person services --- a concept known as “parity.”

The House doesn’t contain a parity requirement. But physician groups argue such a requirement is needed.

“We absolutely need to make sure that the providers of the service get paid for it so we can continue to expand it,” Florida Medical Association President Corey Howard, a Naples physician, said earlier in the legislative session.

A Senate version of the telehealth bill includes a parity requirement but doesn’t contain the tax breaks.