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Telemedicine on Tap Today

Many Floridians like the idea of using technology to keep patients more in touch with caregivers, saving time for all concerned. But insurers have been slow to pay for telemedicine, and physicians remain uncertain about whether they can use it legally.

On Tuesday at 2 p.m., the Florida Senate Health Policy Committee will take up SPB 7028, the Florida Telemedicine Act. It would set up a method for regulating health care professionals who conduct telemedicine consults, whether in-state or across state lines.

As for the big roadblock -- who pays, and how much? -- the Senate bill doesn't require private insurers to cover telemedicine, but says that if they do they must pay the same rates as in-person visits.  That provision is likely to face some static; House leaders indicated last week they want to allow telemedicine but want health-care providers and insurers to negotiate rates without the Legislature requiring parity.

The Senate bill says Medicaid will cover telemedicine. Unlike commercial insurance, the state can more easily issue mandates over Medicaid state-administered health program for the poor.

Under the bill, the standard of care must be the same for telemedicine as for that practiced in an office or beside a hospital bed.  Also,foreseeing a possible pitfall, the bill would prohibit prescribing controlled substances for chronic non-malignant pain via telemedicine.

Read a summary of the bill in the committee's meeting packet, starting on page 52.

As the South Florida Sun Sentinel recently reported, the Florida Medical Association and many other industry players see telemedicine as an important answer to the worsening physician shortage. FMA had hoped for a mandate that insurers pay for telemedicine, but comments from legislative leaders have indicated they won't consider that.