Increasing access to Lifeline program could be the key to telehealth’s success in Florida

by | Mar 20, 2019

House Speaker Jose Oliva‘s push to lower healthcare costs through the establishment of telehealth or telemedicine standards could get a boost through two different bills on two otherwise unrelated topics. When combined, the bills could work together to provide greater health care access at a lower cost for some of Florida’s poorest residents.

Faced with a growing and aging population, Oliva and Governor Ron DeSantis are both looking for efficient, affordable ways to serve more medical patients while maintaining quality care. One approach lawmakers are currently pursuing is supporting and expanding Florida families’ ability to utilize telehealth services. Florida lags behind the national average of health care providers offering the high-tech method of accessing doctors and medical care, according to a study conducted by a state-created advisory task force. More than half of these providers reported better patient outcomes from telehealth, which provides tremendous convenience for patients and better coordination for care.

“We can’t just continue doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” said Governor Ron DeSantis, in his State of the State speech. 

House Bill 23, sponsored by Rep. Clay Yarborough, could potentially deliver the change DeSantis is looking for. The bill authorizes the use of telehealth and establishes standards of practice for services provided using telehealth, including patient examination, record-keeping, and prohibition on prescribing controlled substances for chronic malignant pain. The bill soared through the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday, its second overwhelmingly favorable vote in committee.

But while telehealth legislation could give more Floridians access to health care services, it requires access to internet and phone service – and over 3 million Florida households currently have only limited access to mobile phone and broadband wireless internet service. 

That’s where Senate Bill 742 could help. The bill, sponsored by Senator Oscar Braynon, sailed through the Senate’s Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee by a unanimous vote. The bill would open up the federal “Lifeline” program to more competition. The program, often mistakenly referred to as the “Obama Phone” program, was actually established under President Ronald Reagan, and enables low-income households to connect in their communities by providing broadband internet and mobile phone service at a discounted rate. Under current law, there are only two companies that now dominate the program. Braynon’s bill would open up the program to more competition, lowering the costs and expanding access. 

Under existing law, only 21% of Floridians eligible for Lifeline actually use the program, so our state currently contributes more money to the system than our residents get back. SB742 wouldn’t raise costs for a single Floridian. Plus, more low-income families using the Lifeline service would also mean more families who can utilize the growing telehealth program, in turn lowering health care costs for all Floridians. As leaders push to reduce health care costs, advocates for free market competition in the Lifeline program say that they should embrace innovative approaches that will work for everyone’s benefit.

1 Comment

  1. HotBaloney

    There are companies that already work with health plans to offer telehealth capabilities for low income people at no cost. There is no reason to increase dependency on welfare programs. This is total propaganda

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