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Florida docs gear up for fight against telemedicine bill

The Florida Medical Association, seeking to bolster its case against a telemedicine bill being considered in the state Legislature, released results of a survey showing Floridians are opposed to doctors licensed in other states treating Florida patients via telemedicine.

“Florida patients are strongly opposed, as is the FMA, to allowing out-of-state physicians and practitioners who are not licensed in Florida to not only practice telemedicine, but to prescribe drugs and controlled substances over the Internet,” Timothy Stapleton, FMA executive vice president, said in a news release. “The FMA supports the use of telemedicine and will work tirelessly to ensure that high standards, protections against fraud, and patient privacy are addressed in any legislation.”

Of the poll's 606 respondents, 57% strongly oppose and 13% somewhat oppose allowing out-of-state doctors licensed in other states to treat Florida patients via telemedicine. Ten percent strongly favored allowing the practice and 16% somewhat favored it.

Tomball, Texas-based Voter Consumer Research conducted the survey Feb. 1-5. Other findings included Floridians overwhelmingly oppose out-of-state doctors prescribing medicines or controlled substances. They also oppose having nonphysician healthcare practitioners practice telemedicine.

The Florida Telemedicine Act would create licensure and registration requirements and regulate private insurance and Medicaid reimbursement.

“The FMA is opposed to the bill as drafted,” said Erin Vansickle, FMA spokeswoman. “We look forward to working with lawmakers to craft legislation that protects patient safety and privacy, and ensures fair reimbursement for physicians.” She did not detail which provisions of the bill the association opposes.

Vansickle said the FMA's opposition was not directed toward the state's annual influx of winter snowbirds, residents who move south for the season but who may stay connected to their home state doctors via telemedicine.

“The FMA has major concerns about the impacts of telemedicine on all Florida patients, regardless of how long they reside in or visit our state,” she said.

The FMA, in its Five Pillar program (PDF) for addressing primary-care physician and nurse shortages, states that it supports telemedicine services for patients and physicians with established relationships and informed patient consent; that it wants physicians practicing telemedicine on Florida patients to hold a state license or telemedicine certificate and to be subject to discipline by the Florida Board of Medicine; and that it supports parity in Medicaid and private insurance reimbursement for face-to-face and telemedicine consults.

In explaining reimbursement, the association document states that “the physician expends the same amount of time, skill and expertise in both.”

Twenty-two states have telehealth bills before their legislatures, according to the American Telemedicine Association.

Telemedicine laws went in effect last month in Arizona and Mississippi. Legislation allowing reimbursement for pediatric mental health services delivered via telehealth technology was signed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Feb. 6 and immediately enacted into law.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks

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