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Senate Health Panel OKs Consumer Bills

Sen_Don_Gaetz.jpg
WLRN

Bills aimed at helping patients save money on contact lenses and confront fewer hurdles in access to drugs passed the Florida Senate Health Policy Committee on Monday. The panel also passed a bill to crack down on rogue clinics that escape state oversight by taking only cash.

Here are details:

--The Right Medicine, Right Time Act passed the committee unanimously. Sponsored by former Senate President Don Gaetz, it pits two enormously powerful forces against one another. It's the doctors v. the health plans and business groups.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, has taken aim at health plan rules that require patients to "fail first" on an inexpensive drug before getting coverage approval for one that is more costly. He says such policies can force patients to go through months of misery before making it to the drug their doctor thinks is best for them.

Health plans say, however, that the requirements for what they call "step therapy" protect patients from prescribing errors as well as keep costs down. Business groups also oppose the bill because they fear they'll pay more if doctors have freedom to prescribe expensive drugs.

For more details, see Access-to-Drugs Bill Gains Steam.

--The Health Care Clinic Act,  SB 486, also passed unanimously. The bill sponsored by Sens. Gaetz and Eleanor Sobel, has drawn no visible opposition. It is the same bill that passed the Senate last year but failed to gain traction in the House.

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Credit Florida Legislature
Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood

The bill aims to repair a glitch in the state law that allows state officials to inspect health care clinics but defines clinics as those that accept insurance. Sobel, D-Hollywood, says flimflam artists and snake-oil salesmen have escaped state scrutiny by running clinics that accept only cash.

An example is Biogenesis, a Coral Gables clinic that provided performance-enhancing drugs to athletes, muscle-builders and others -- including baseball star Alex Rodriguez, who was suspended for the whole 2014 season over it. Biogenesis' owner, Anthony Bosch, was sentenced to prison last month for posing as a medical doctor.

--Contact Lens Pricing Practices , SB 1400, passed six to three. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon said it would bar manufacturers from setting a minimum price on lenses, a practice that has prevented consumers from getting discounts.

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Credit Florida Legislature
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon

The bill drew opposition from Jacksonville-based Johnson & Johnson, which manufactures contact lenses, and from optometrists.

The debate drew lobbyists from all over the country -- including an online discounter from Colorado and a Costco representative from the state of Washington -- to ask for passage of the bill. They said that manufacturers have been engaged in what amounts to price-fixing.

Carol Gentry is a reporter with WUSF in Tampa. WUSF is a part of Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.