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DeSantis Greenlights The Use Of Telehealth To Serve Patients Remotely

Ryan Benk

A new law could soon allow out-of-state physicians to treat Florida patients remotely.

Governor Ron DeSantis signed the law this week. It creates a regulatory framework for telehealth, which in this case means doctors treating patients via video chat.  Phone calls and emails don’t count, according to the law.

Proponents of telehealth say it expands access to rural communities and Duval County Medical Society President Sunil Joshi said Jacksonville residents could also benefit.  

“This opens up another option to them, especially those who work all the time and have to be at the desk from nine to five and really don’t have time to go to the doctor. They at least can get some visits done this way,” he said. “It’s not the way to do a full physical exam, but it certainly can help with acute illness.”

Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, carried the bill through the Florida Legislature, which addresses how out-of-state physicians can provide telehealth services in Florida and how insurers pay providers.  

Related: Jacksonville Rep. Yarborough Looks To ‘Kick-Start’ Telehealth With Incentives For Insurers

The Telehealth Advisory Council, in a 2016 report to the Legislature, recommended that the state pass a parity requirement. Basically, the mandate would require insurers to pay telehealth physicians the same rates as doctors providing face-to-face services.   

Yarborough favored incentives to encourage insurance companies, but his desired tax break for insurers was struck down in the House by opponents of the idea. Still, he’s confident insurers will buy into the system, even without the tax break, and that will drive down costs.

“We’ve really allowed for it to be a free market approach to where we can see costs go down significantly, again, for the consumer, the patient, the provider and for the insurance company,” he said.

According to a 2018 report from the Center for Connected Health Policy, 39 states and the District of Columbia have laws that govern telehealth reimbursement policies.

“Our only concern with that is the potential of someone who may not be qualified, or may have some issues, who may have some issues with licensure in his own state, who may be performing telehealth in Florida,” said Joshi. 

He said patients should check if the provider is part of the local or state medical society. Typically, those societies require a medical license. And to get a medical license, a doctor’s background, medical training and residency training are thoroughly vetted, he said. 

The Department of Health will receive $261,389 annually and an additional one-time $15,020 through the Medical Quality Assurance Fund to oversee and annual reports about telehealth in Florida.  

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Abukar has joined the WJCT News from Maine Public, which is based in Portland, Maine.
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