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Florida’s largest medical association seeks telehealth payment mandates as coronavirus spreads

Surge in telehealth as fears over coronavirus grow
Surge in telehealth as fears over coronavirus grow

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s largest medical association is asking the state’s insurance commissioner to require insurance companies to reimburse health care providers the same rates for providing telehealth services as in-person health care.

Thursday’s request for the emergency action comes as the state encourages people to self-isolate amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

“This action is needed in Florida given the uneven response of the health insurance companies doing business in this state,” Florida Medical Association President Ronald F. Giffler wrote in a letter to Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.

“Uniformity is desperately needed so that all health care providers can comfortably provide telehealth services during the existence of the state of emergency without patients having to worry about their insurer denying coverage for such care,” added Giffler, who asked Altmaier to issue an emergency order mandating payment parity.

The letter, which was also sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration’s health-care agency secretaries, noted that the state’s largest insurer, Florida Blue, has indicated that “primary care providers, behavioral health providers and specialists can bill for virtual visits if they have telemedicine capabilities and want to consult with their patients virtually.”

The FMA letter comes one day after United Healthcare, which has 350,000 members in Florida, announced in a press release that it was increasing access to telemedicine and virtual health care as the country wrestles with containing further spread of COVID-19. The company was silent in its statement on reimbursement for physicians who provide telehealth services to United Healthcare’s members.

Meanwhile, a schedule of coronavirus-related events released by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis showed that Patronis met with FMA and health insurance carriers regarding telehealth on Thursday. Patronis’s office didn’t immediately say whether Altmaier -- who answers to DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet, which includes Patronis -- joined him at the meeting.

Florida Association of Health Plans President and CEO Audrey Brown told The News Service of Florida in a statement that health plans are “issuing guidance to their network providers promoting telemedicine and payment for services, as well as removing prior authorization for testing and treatment for the virus. “