No hang ups: Lawmakers pass telehealth bill sans audio-only phone expansion

Tom Fabricio
'Ensuring Florida residents have improved access and maintain their medication regimen is of utmost importance.'

Lawmakers did not get hung up on whether to allow audio-only telephone calls to be considered “telehealth.”

The Senate on Friday voted unanimously to approve a bill (SB 312) that allows telehealth to be used to prescribe Schedule III, IV and V substances. But the legislation did not authorize the use of phone calls as an option for patients. The House had unanimously voted on Feb. 24 to pass the bill.

Senate bill sponsor Sen. Manny Diaz told Florida Politics on Friday the Senate is “committed” to coming back to address an audio-only option next year. The inclusion of audio in Florida’s telehealth law was a major priority for Americans for Prosperity, not just in Florida, but nationally.

AFP Florida State Director Skylar Zander said it was disappointing the chambers could not “provide more electronic options” for patients, especially those in rural areas.

This is the second year the Legislature has considered changes to telehealth laws that health care lobbyists wanted lawmakers to consider. Efforts last year fell short, and there was a full-court press during the 2022 Session to make sure there was not a repeat.

Rep. Tom Fabricio has sponsored the legislation for the last two years and told Florida Politics Friday he is happy to have the bill pass.

“I have championed this bill for two consecutive years because ensuring Florida residents have improved access and maintain their medication regimen is of utmost importance,” Fabricio said in a text. “Looking forward to this legislation being signed into law.”

The bill was pushed by physician lobbyists who, though pleased it passed, would like to see the Legislature come back and address more changes next year, specifically some parity requirements when it comes to how providers are paid.

Toni Large said the bill was a first step that should be applauded, but she added that payment parity needs to be part of any future telehealth bill.

“Insurers are implementing underpayments for telehealth visits as the public health emergency payment protections expire, making it difficult for many physicians’ practices to continue to offer these services to their patients,” said Large, whose clients include the Florida Orthopaedic Society and the Florida College of Emergency Room Physicians. “Payment parity should be part of any future telehealth legislation as well as post-surgical utilization of telehealth to manage drug therapies.”

When lawmakers have passed telehealth laws, they’ve been cautious about allowing the method to be used to prescribe controlled substances. Currently, telehealth can be used to prescribe controlled substances only if the treatment is for a psychiatric disorder, or if the patient is hospitalized, receiving hospice services or is a resident of a nursing home facility.

The bill narrows the current prohibition on ordering and allows telehealth to be used to prescribe Schedule III, IV and V substances. Drugs are placed on a schedule based on their potential for dependence and harm. The lower the schedule number, the higher the dependency risk.

Schedule III substances have potential risk for physical and psychological dependency as well as physical harm, according to staff analysis of the bill. Schedule III drugs include anabolic steroids.

A Schedule IV substance has a lower potential for abuse than substances in Schedule III. Examples include alprazolam, diazepam, and phenobarbital.

A Schedule V substance has the lowest potential for abuse of all the drug schedules. Examples include codeine, certain stimulants, and certain narcotic compounds.

If signed into law the bill would take effect July 1.

Jacksonville lobbyist and health care attorney Christopher Nuland said he was “delighted” the chambers agreed to pass the bill.

“This legislation will improve patient access to health care without compromising quality,” Nuland said.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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