Find Out How Healthcare Legislation Fared This Year
by TERESA SCHIFFER
This year was a busy one for healthcare legislation during Florida’s legislative session that ended in late April. There have been some significant laws passed in regards to the healthcare industry. Out of a total of 275 bills passed, 14 specifically relating to healthcare went into effect July 1. Though lawmakers were looking at making some serious cuts to healthcare, ultimately they signed a $101.5 billion state budget that includes several expansions of care.
Among the bills expanding healthcare services to various populations is an extension to Medicaid’s postpartum coverage for mothers. The previous coverage period was for 60 days after giving birth. Now a full year will be covered. This is expected to help more than 97,000 low-income mothers. The final budget also includes full funding for all Medicaid caseloads, which are estimated to reach 4.6 million in 2021-22.
Children will also benefit from full funding for the KidCare programs, which include Florida Health Kids MediKids and Children’s Medical Services. The total funding for these programs is $570 million, $421.3 million of which comes from the federal government. A bill covering the administration of vaccines by certain pharmacists will also benefit many children, as it allows pharmacists and pharmacy interns who are supervised by a physician to give flu shots to children aged seven years and older. This bill also authorizes those individuals to administer a wide variety of inoculations to adults.
Other vulnerable groups that gained additional resources under the latest legislative session include minority and elderly populations. The Maternal Health Outcomes bill authorizes Closing the Gap grants for projects operating with the goal of decreasing racial and ethnic disparities in the rates of maternal morbidity and other mental health outcomes. Pilot programs in Duval and Orange Counties will be funded to create more access to healthcare through telehealth options.
Another bill aimed at improving outcomes for minority patients requires the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity to develop and promote statewide policies, programs, and practices to improve access to care for racial and ethnic minority groups. One obstacle to care these groups have faced is a language barrier. HB 183 will require local health departments to collect and publish data relating to minority populations, as well as providing resources for healthcare workers to learn more about medical bias, and for minority patients to be informed of what programs they may qualify for.
Nursing homes will now be allowed to employ laypeople as “personal care assistants” after completing a 16-hour education course created by the Agency for Health Care Administration. Although representatives from AARP Florida have expressed concerns that this law could “decrease the quality of care provided in Florida nursing homes,” backers of the policy change hope that this legislation will help provide an easier path to certified nursing assistant careers through on-the-job training.
The needs of sexual assault victims are being recognized through HB 1189, which sets forth the duties and regulations expected of Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs). These teams will be required to meet at least quarterly and develop written procedures on how they will respond to allegations of sexual assault, retain evidence and provide services to victims. County health departments will be required to either participate in existing SARTs or coordinate the creation of such a team if one does not exist in that community. Law enforcement officers will also receive continued education for providing culturally appropriate, trauma-informed responses in sexual assault cases.
In another act of support for the victims of criminal activity, SB 1934 requires the Department of Health to suspend the licenses of any healthcare practitioners who are found guilty or convicted of certain felonies, including those relating to homicide, possessing child pornography, or soliciting prostitution, among others.
Physician assistants are being given more autonomy by eliminating the requirement that they inform their patients that they have the right to see a physician before the physician assistant writes or administers a prescription. Under HB 431, the number of physician assistants that any one doctor may supervise has been increased from four to 10. PAs are also now authorized to procure certain medical devices and medications, authenticate most documents that require authentication by a physician, and to prescribe up to a two-week supply of Schedule II psychotropic drugs to minor patients.
There were many bills that did not pass, died in committee hearings or failed without a hearing, including several bills that would have made massive expansions to Medicaid and Florida Kidcare coverage. Some bills that failed were aimed at protecting patients from being denied insurance coverage under a variety of circumstances. There were also efforts to provide improved mental health care that did not pass. SJR 340, Supermajority Vote Required to Enact a Single-payer Healthcare System, also died in committee.
Other bills that were passed include one increasing the authority of certain hospitals to dispense prescribed medicinal drugs to emergency room patients or inpatients upon discharge under specific circumstances, another clarifying a 2020 law on consent for pelvic exams, and a prohibition of hospital-based, off-campus emergency departments from representing themselves as urgent care clinics. Overall, the bills passed in Florida’s 2021 legislative session overwhelmingly protect patients’ rights while expanding care to vulnerable populations.