Florida Senate passes massive new health care plan

 January 21, 2024

The Florida Senate unanimously approved a comprehensive plan on Thursday aimed at enhancing healthcare access to address the state's growing population.

President Kathleen Passidomo and other proponents consider the plan, outlined in two bills, as a strategy to adapt to the evolving healthcare landscape.

The plan

The plan encompasses initiatives to increase the number of doctors in the state, reduce reliance on emergency rooms, establish new facilities for women's maternity care, and boost health innovation efforts.

Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairwoman Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican with a history of working on healthcare issues, called one of the bills (SB 7016) as "probably the most comprehensive healthcare bill I have ever seen."

Harrell emphasized that the plan aims to change the trajectory of healthcare, making it more accessible and open to the growing population in Florida. She highlighted the necessity of having an increased number of healthcare providers to meet the rising demand.

Next steps

President Passidomo prioritized the plan for the current legislative session, with House versions of the bills advancing last week.

Both the House and Senate will need to reconcile differences to reach a final version of the plan.

One notable difference between the House and Senate versions lies in the projected costs. Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Colleen Burton noted that the initial version of SB 7016 had an estimated cost of around $800 million, but the Senate reduced it by about $70 million before passing the bill. The House version's cost is approximately $580 million.

A second bill

The second Senate bill (SB 7018), sponsored by Harrell, proposes a revolving loan fund program for health innovation projects, initially allocating $75 million annually. However, a change on Thursday lowered the amount to $50 million.

Addressing shortages of doctors and healthcare providers in the state, Passidomo's plan aims to increase the number of doctors by expanding medical residency programs, using state funding. Passidomo highlighted the importance of retaining medical graduates in Florida by offering residency programs within the state.

The plan also seeks to shift patients away from emergency rooms for non-emergency conditions. Hospitals would be required to take measures, such as establishing collaborative partnerships with federally qualified health centers or other primary-care providers.

The plan proposes the creation of "advanced birth centers" that could perform cesarean-section deliveries for women with low-risk pregnancies. While Democrats raised concerns about safety precautions and the centers' location, Burton emphasized that decisions about advanced birth centers would be market-driven, with safety regulations enforced by the state Agency for Health Care Administration.

The multifaceted plan reflects an overarching strategy to adapt and enhance Florida's healthcare infrastructure, addressing various aspects of healthcare access, provider shortages, and innovative healthcare solutions.

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