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Coronavirus in Florida

Doctors’ orders: Florida Medical Association seeks telehealth expansion

Doctors’ group wants insurance uniformity.

With visits to doctors’ offices ever more perilous in the coronavirus era, the Florida Medical Association is seeking an alternative.

They want an expansion of telehealth services to cover “all in-network providers,” regardless of whether diagnoses relate to COVID-19 or not.

Payment for telehealth services should be kept the same as normal visits, and “remote communication products” should be allowed.

FMA President Ronald F. Giffler said the “action is needed in Florida given the uneven response of the health insurance companies doing business in this state.”

“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,” Giffler added.

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Ultimately, the move is Insurance Commissioner David Altmeier‘s call. To that end, the FMA sent his office a letter Thursday.

The relaxation of telehealth restrictions is “urgently needed to ensure that all Floridians – particularly those at high-risk of complications from the virus that causes the disease COVID-19 – have access to benefits that can keep them healthy while helping to contain the community spread of this virus,” Giffler wrote.

The letter goes on to note that the federal government has broadened access to Medicare and Medicaid telehealth, and that Massachusetts likewise established coverage parity.

Meanwhile, Florida Blue has widened access, but United Healthcare has not. Others have not even responded to questions.

“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.  Governor DeSantis has made it clear that it is essential that the state do everything it can to limit face-to-face contact with others as much as possible.  We ask that you require the health insurance companies doing business in this state to do their part to help contain the spread of this acute public health danger and issue an order to the effect requested above,” the FMA urged.

Happily, the Florida Association of Health Plans says that “Florida’s health plans engaged in proactive measures to support telemedicine and reduce prior authorization requirements as our state and nation work to contain and treat COVID-19.

“Health insurers 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.  On behalf of the Florida Association of Health Plans, it is our goal to ensure access to Florida’s medical community, who will provide the best care to Floridians during this difficult time.  We are all in this together,” asserted Audrey Brown, FAHP president and CEO.

Telehealth has already been expanded in Florida this week.

With people socially isolating, Surgeon General Scott Rivkees on Monday greenlighted telemedicine for cannabis and controlled substances.

Rules requiring in-person consultations for returning patients (not new ones) have been waylaid by the coronavirus, at least for the next 30 days.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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