Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed a series of health-care bills, including a measure that supporters say will help shield patients from getting hit with surprise tabs after going to hospital emergency rooms.
Scott also vetoed a bill that would have provided financial incentives for dentists to practice in underserved areas of the state. The bill (HB 139) had been unanimously approved by the House and Senate during the legislative session that ended March 11.
The measures signed Thursday included some of the most heavily lobbied health-care bills of the session. As an example, Scott signed a measure (HBÂ 221) that drew attention from health insurers, doctors and hospitals and addresses an issue known as "balance billing."
That issue primarily deals with patients who have preferred provider organization, or PPO, coverage and go to hospitals for emergency care. Patients have sometimes gotten unexpected bills because doctors at the hospitals are not part of the insurance plans' networks.
The legislation seeks to prevent patients from getting hit with those surprise expenses and, in part, sets up a dispute-resolution process for health-care providers and insurers to work out payment issues.
State Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who has been an outspoken supporter of the measure, said it establishes a "balanced solution to the complex issue of medical billing."
"This new law protects consumers by holding them harmless in times of both emergency situations when choosing a provider is not an option, and in non-emergency situations when communication may not be made clear regarding out-of-network providers who may be offering care," Atwater said in a prepared statement. "As a result, consumers are left with a more affordable bill comparable to what they would have paid if the provider had been in their network."
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, also will require health insurers to cover such services as speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy for people with Down syndrome. That provision, which expands part of a law that took effect in 2009 for people with autism spectrum disorder, was a priority of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and was added in the final hours of the session.
Among the other bills signed Thursday was a long-debated measure (HB 423), sponsored by Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, and Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, that will allow advanced registered nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe controlled substances. The bill would place some limits on the authority, such as restricting the prescribing of what are known as "Schedule II" controlled substances, such as codeine and oxycodone, to seven-day supplies.
Also, Scott signed a measure (HB 1175), sponsored by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, that is aimed at creating greater transparency for patients about health-care costs and quality. In addition, Scott signed a bill (HB 7087), sponsored by Sprowls, Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, that will create an advisory council that would make recommendations about increasing the use of "telehealth."
In all, Scott signed 20 bills Thursday dealing with a range of issues including health care, education, transportation and property insurance.
Scott's veto of the dental bill was something of a surprise --- and was only the second bill he has vetoed this year. The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park, and Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, would have created a program to provide awards of $10,000 to $100,000 to dentists who work in underserved areas, such as rural areas or low-income areas.
The money could have been used for such things are repayment of dental-school loans or investment in facilities and equipment. But in a veto letter, Scott said, in part, that the bill was duplicative of other programs that provide dental care, such as the statewide Medicaid managed-care system.
"While I agree with the bill sponsors that maintaining good oral health is integral to the overall health of Florida families, I cannot support a program that does not place appropriate safeguards on taxpayer investments,'' the veto letter said. "The bill does not require dentists who receive taxpayer dollars to hire a specific number of new employees or to serve a certain number of low-income patients each year. Furthermore, the bill opens the door for state dollars to be used to incentivize other high-income professionals."