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Senators try to set framework for telehealth

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A Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill that includes some recommendations made by a state-appointed telehealth advisory panel but ignores other recommendations involving what is known as “parity” in health-care coverage and reimbursements.

The telehealth issue focuses on doctors and other health-care providers using technology to remotely provide care to patients.

Lawmakers in recent years have repeatedly tried to agree on a framework for what’s allowable and what’s not.

The parity issue deals with requiring insurance coverage and provider reimbursements to be equitable whether care is provided in person or through telehealth.

The advisory council recommended requiring parity, but Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican sponsoring the bill (SB 280), said it does not include mandates.

Bean passed legislation in 2016 that created a 15-member Telehealth Advisory Council and required it to submit a report with recommendations to the governor and legislative leaders by Oct. 31, 2017.

The bill also required the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Office of Insurance Regulation and the Florida Department of Health to survey health-care practitioners, facilities and insurers on telehealth utilization and coverage.

While Bean’s proposal didn’t include the task force’s recommendations on coverage and reimbursement parity, it includes a recommendation that prescribing controlled substances through telehealth be limited.

It would make clear that telehealth may not be used to prescribe controlled substances to treat chronic or nonmalignant pain or to issue physician certifications for medical marijuana.

Physicians, however, could use telehealth for ordering controlled substances for patients in hospitals or a hospice.

The bill, approved Tuesday by the Senate Health Policy Committee, also includes the advisory council’s recommendation that Florida licensure be required for health-care practitioners providing care in Florida through telehealth.

A House version of the bill (HB 793) has not been heard.