House committee advances health care accessibility package

by | Jan 12, 2024

The Florida House Select Committee on Health Innovation approved House Bill 1549 on Friday, aimed at expanding the state’s healthcare workforce through interstate compacts, programs for foreign-trained physicians, and telehealth services expansion in response to Florida’s growing population and aging physician demographic.

The Florida House Select Committee on Health Innovation on Friday approved House Bill 1549 (HB 1549), which seeks to expand Florida’s healthcare workforce in response to its population surge.

The bill proposes Florida’s participation in various interstate compacts, such as the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, which would facilitate the process for physicians to practice across state lines. It also introduces a program for foreign-trained physicians, allowing them to practice in Florida, and would waive existing residency requirements for physicians upon completion of a U.S. clinical program.

Another aspect of the bill is the expansion of dental school loan repayment programs to include dental hygienists intended to encourage dental care in underserved regions, focusing on services for Medicaid patients.

The measure also addresses regulatory reforms. It proposes measures to facilitate the practice of out-of-state practitioners in Florida, standardize licensure requirements, and expand telehealth services, with a particular focus on minority maternity care patients.

The legislation additionally introduces new initiatives like the Health Care Screening and Services Grant Program and an advanced birth center designation.

“HB 1549 is a robust package of policy initiatives and strategic investments that will take that will help make sure Florida’s healthcare workforce is growing and innovating at the same pace as the rest of our great state,” said Rep. Michael Grant, who sponsored the bill. “Over the next five years, our population will grow by almost 300,000 residents per year … and we will need more primary care providers who play a vital role as the main point of contact in the health care system.”

As presented by Grant, the total legislative package is projected to cost approximately $580 million in state and federal funds, while its similarly-worded Senate counterpart is pegged at $800 million in total expenditure.

During questioning, a focus was placed on the proposed elimination of residency requirements for foreign-trained physicians. Committee members, including Rep. Kelly Skidmore, raised concerns about forgoing traditional U.S. residency and sought more information on the outcomes of similar policies in other states in evaluating the impact on patient care and physician performance.

“It’s not a concern I have in my experience,” said Grant, citing his personal physician who is originally from India.

In response, Skidmore clarified, stating that her concern lies with the removal of the residency requirement for foreign-trained physicians at large.

“Certainly I agree. My concern is just the residency piece,” she said. “Your physician did have a residency because that is the law. That’s where I have a bit of heartburn and would love to know if there are any statistics about adverse outcomes from this.”

The meeting also delved into the question of prioritizing employment for Floridians in the healthcare sector, with Rep. Patricia Williams advocating for hiring provisions favoring Florida residents to ensure state funds directly benefit local communities.

“Right now we have a lot of people that are out of work here in Florida,” Williams stated. “Will Floridians get the top priority and actually be employed before we reach across state lines?”

In response, Grant pointed to a meritocratic hiring process given the ongoing healthcare worker shortage.

“If there is, and this is an example, a nurse from California who has 10 years of experience who wants to come to the state of Florida, and the hospitals try to determine between the California nurse and a nurse that just graduated from a Florida institution, I would think in terms of patient care or in terms of training, they would probably want to go with a more experienced nurse,” said Grant.

According to data presented to the House Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee in November, 20 percent of Florida’s physicians, amounting to 65,000 healthcare professionals, are aged 60 or above and are likely to retire within the next five to ten years. Supplementary data aggregated by the Association of American Medical Colleges showed that Florida ranks sixth among all states in terms of the highest percentage of physicians over 60 years of age.

Per the Physicians Survey conducted by the state, physicians aged 50 to 59 comprise the largest group of Florida practitioners, at 25.2 percent, with an average overall age of 53. Moreover, 4.7 percent, or 2,512 registered physicians in Florida reported that they plan to move out of the state within the next five years.

“While we’ve seen a 33.8 percent increase [in physicians] since 2012 through the current year, the average increase during this period is just three percent,” Florida Department of Health Division of Public Health Statistics Director Emma Spencer told the subcommittee. “For reference, Florida’s overall population has increased by 15 percent during that same time period.”

Using feedback from the survey, the agency identified nine counties where at least 25 percent of their physicians indicated that they intend to retire within the next five years.

“Retirements are disproportionately affecting smaller counties,” said Spencer


%d bloggers like this: