Scott signs public hospital, vaccination bills

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Resolving two long-running debates, Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed bills that will give more vaccination powers to pharmacists and increase oversight of the sales or leases of public hospitals, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

The pharmacy and hospital bills were two of several health-related measures that Scott signed heading into the holiday weekend. Others included a bill that would allow the use of what is known as a “medical loss ratio” for managed-care plans in the Medicaid program.

Pharmacists, who are allowed to give flu shots, have long sought authority to give other types of vaccinations — but have run into opposition from physicians. During this year’s legislative session, pharmacy and physician groups agreed to a carefully crafted compromise (HB 509) that Scott signed Friday.

Under the measure, pharmacists will be able to give pneumonia shots. Also they will be able to give vaccinations for shingles if doctors write prescriptions. The bill also requires pharmacists to take continuing-education courses administered by a physicians’ association.

Michael Jackson, president and chief-executive officer of the Florida Pharmacy Association, said in a prepared statement Friday that the bill will help increase access to vaccinations.

“By allowing pharmacists to administer these important vaccines, the new law makes it easier for adults — and seniors, in particular — to protect themselves against these dangerous and in some cases life-threatening illnesses,” Jackson said.

Lawmakers and Scott also approved the public-hospital bill (HB 711) after parts of the hospital industry helped negotiate a compromise. Divisions in the industry played a part in killing a similar bill in 2011.

Supporters of HB 711 said it is needed because of situations such as a bungled merger of the public Bert Fish Medical Center in Volusia County with the non-profit Adventist Health System. The merger had to be scrapped last year after it was disclosed that the Bert Fish board had met in private to discuss the deal, violating the state’s open-meetings law.

The compromise will lead to the secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration reviewing potential sales or leases of public hospitals. Also it requires hospital governing boards to start formal evaluations of the potential benefits of selling or leasing their facilities — though they are not required to pursue sales or leases.

In approving the Medicaid bill, meanwhile, Scott and Republican leaders eased away from their opposition to using a medical-loss ratio in the Medicaid program. Such ratios are controversial in the insurance industry, as they require health plans to spend a minimum amount of the money they receive on patient care.

Supporters say the ratios are important to make sure HMOs spend enough money on patients, while critics say the ratios don’t guarantee better care and that it is often difficult to differentiate between medical and other types of costs.

Lawmakers approved a proposal last year to move to a statewide Medicaid managed-care system but did not include such a ratio. Instead, they wanted to use a system that would require HMOs to share profits above 5 percent with the state.

But federal health officials, who are reviewing the proposed statewide managed-care system, have made clear they want a medical-loss ratio.

HB 730 would allow AHCA to use a medical-loss ratio if it is required by the federal government. But it also includes a caveat that would allow Medicaid HMOs to at least partially comply with the ratio by contributing money to medical-residency programs or to a state Medicaid fund.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.