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Senate committee passes 2 key bills expanding health care access

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Bills that would iron out rules for direct primary care contracts and encourage healthcare companies to give free health care to low-income Floridians passed the Senate Committee on Health Policy Monday.

SB 1144, sponsored by Niceville Republican Sen. Don Gaetz, would allow new medical facilities to bypass a lengthy review process known as “certificate of need” if they commit to giving free health care to low-income patients.

“This regulatory framework promotes access to care, while protecting safety net providers from unfair competition,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner. “Senator Gaetz’s legislation eliminates this burdensome process as long as facilities provide or fund a threshold level of charity care to low-income, uninsured residents.”

Under the bill, companies would need to give 1.5 percent of a new facility’s first-year profits to the Agency for Health Care Administration, and would have to match the area average for free health care from the facility’s second year and onward.

The committee also voted for a bill by Sebring Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley, SB 132, that clears up rules surrounding “direct primary care” – an arrangement where patients or their employers pay physicians a monthly fee for regular checkups and necessary care, rather than involving an insurance company.

“We know how important basic primary care is to our overall health, and we want to make sure more people can afford to purchase these services from a doctor they know and trust, rather than in a hospital emergency room when they are at their sickest and most vulnerable,” Gardiner said.

The bill would require direct primary care agreements to be in writing, specify what services are included in the contract and make clear that it is not a replacement for health insurance, among other provisions.

SB 132 is similar to HB 37, sponsored by Port Orange Republican Rep. Fred Costello. That bill made it through its last committee stop on Jan. 27 and is ready for a floor vote in the House.

Grimsley’s bill now moves to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, chaired by Fort Myers Republican Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, while SB 1144 is heading to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, led by Hialeah Republican Sen. Rene Garcia.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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