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Nurses, Telehealth Fall Off 'Train'

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The two biggest health initiatives of the Florida House for 2014-15 both died at the hands of the Senate during the final 36 hours of this year's legislative session, which ended around 10:30 Friday night.

They were:

--Allowing nurse practitioners who have sufficient training to practice independently of physician supervision;

--Setting up a structure under the law for the growth of distance health care through  telemedicine or telehealth, terms used at various times during the session.

It was a big defeat for the House Health Committee on Health Care Innovation, which spent months holding hearings and doing research.

Also, it appeared for most of the session HCA corporation would also be a winner, gaining permanent status for the three trauma centers in Marion, Pasco and Manatee counties that are embroiled in litigation.

But News Service of Florida reports that the House passed an amendment in the final few minutes that removed the trauma section of the bill.  It failed when the House's amendment failed to be brought up again by the Senate. (Editor's note: An earlier version of this article failed to note this late-breaking change.)

Supporters of the older, more-established trauma centers told the News Service they are frustrated but hopeful negotiations between the feuding hospitals and the Florida Department of Health can resolve the now-three-year-old dispute.

There were some winners:

--The Florida Medical Association, which fiercely opposed  nurse-practitioner independence and didn't like the House's version of telemedicine, which would have allowed out-of-state physicians to engage in electronic patient visits without having a Florida license.

It isn't clear why the Senate decided just to do away with telehealth entirely rather than require the out-of-state practitioners to have a Florida license, as FMA had asked. It may be because the House sponsors had warned that requiring such licensure would cause the entire endeavor to fail.

--The nursing home industry, which gained protection for its investors in lawsuits alleging neglect.