Senate To Take Up High-Profile Health Issues

Feb 1, 2016

With House Republican leaders pushing for a wide range of regulatory changes in the health-care industry, a Senate committee will wade into some of the key issues this week.

The Senate Health Policy Committee today is slated to take up bills that deal with what are known as "direct primary care" agreements, certificates of need and an issue called "balanced billing."

The direct primary-care issue (SB 132), sponsored by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, appears to be the least controversial. Supporters want to clear the way for the use of the agreements, which generally involve patients making monthly payments to doctors and other health providers for primary-care services. The agreements would effectively reduce the role of insurers in such services.

House Republican leaders also have pushed to eliminate the certificate-of-need regulatory process for hospitals. That process, in part, requires hospitals to get state approval for construction and expansion projects.

But the Senate Health Policy Committee will take up a bill (SB 1144), filed by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, that differs significantly from the House approach. Gaetz's bill would allow exemptions to the so-called CON process but would condition them on health facilities meeting criteria for providing care to low-income people.

The Health Policy Committee also will consider a proposal (SB 1442), sponsored by Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, that would seek to shield patients from receiving unexpected bills for emergency care. Such bills can come when patients receive care from physicians or other providers who are outside of the patients' insurance networks.

The "balanced billing" issue, however, is complex and has pitted insurers against hospitals and physician groups.