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Florida House gives final OK to health care bills that next heads to DeSantis

 Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, led efforts to pass a bill to address affordable housing.
Colin Hackley
News Service of Florida
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, led efforts to pass the health care bills. Passidomo has said the bills are needed, at least in part, to meet health needs as the state continues to grow.

Supporters say the proposals in the "Live Healthy" package will expand access to care as the state's population continues to increase. The bill is a priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.

The Florida House on Thursday gave final approval to a wide-ranging health care plan that supporters say will help prepare for future population growth and fuel innovation.

With little discussion, the House voted 117-1 to pass two bills (SB 7016 and SB 7018) that have been priorities of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. The Senate last month unanimously passed the bills, which are ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Riverview, cast the only dissenting votes on the bills, dubbed the “Live Healthy” plan.

Passidomo has said the bills are needed, at least in part, to meet health needs as the state continues to grow. For example, one of the bills includes providing money to expand medical residency programs to try to keep more new doctors in Florida.

“If we do not take steps now to grow our health care workforce, all Floridians — even those with great insurance and certainly those on Medicaid — will continue to face barriers to care,” Passidomo said last month during remarks to open the legislative session. “My goal is to make sure our health care system is growing and innovating to better serve all Floridians.”

Groups such as the Florida Hospital Association, Florida Behavioral Health Association and Florida Association of Managing Entities, which is part of the behavioral health system, quickly praised passage of the legislation Thursday.

“As Florida’s population continues to grow rapidly, this legislative package addresses prevalent health care challenges in Florida and strengthens the ability of hospitals to provide exceptional care by growing the health care workforce, advancing health care innovation and technology and supporting integrated behavioral health care,” Gino Santorio, chairman of the Florida Hospital Association Board of Trustees and president and CEO of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, said in a statement.

The main bill (SB 7016) includes $717 million in spending. Among other things, it would provide money for increased residency slots for doctors and put additional dollars into loan-forgiveness programs for health care professionals.

The bill also would take workforce-related steps such as helping clear the way for foreign-trained physicians to practice in Florida.

The bill also includes issues such as trying to shift patients away from hospital emergency rooms for nonemergency conditions. The plan would require hospitals to take steps to divert patients, such as by creating a “collaborative partnership” with federally qualified health centers or other primary care providers.

The bill also includes allowing “advanced birth centers” that could provide cesarean section deliveries for women who have what are considered low-risk pregnancies. Birth centers already exist but are not allowed to provide cesarean sections, which are surgical procedures done in hospitals.

With Passidomo’s support, the bills drew relatively little resistance as they moved through the Senate and House. But the advanced birth centers drew questions about issues such as whether safety precautions would be in place if complications arise during surgeries.

Also, Democrats urged that the plan include expanding eligibility for Medicaid coverage — an idea that Republicans have repeatedly rejected over the past decade. Passidomo made clear the package would not include Medicaid expansion.

The other bill (SB 7018) includes providing $50 million a year for a revolving-loan fund program for health innovation projects. The program would provide loans with a maximum interest rate of 1 percent, with priority given to applicants such as rural hospitals and organizations that provide care in medically underserved areas.

“It will be changing health care as we know it in Florida,” Rep. Karen Gonzalez Pittman, a Tampa Republican who sponsored the innovation bill in the House, said Thursday.

Copyright 2024 WUSF 89.7

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.