- Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, with support from Sens. Colleen Burton and Gayle Harrell, announced the “Live Healthy” initiative, a nearly $1 billion plan aimed at enhancing the state’s healthcare workforce and improving access to healthcare services.
- The initiative focuses on expanding the healthcare workforce, increasing access to services, and fostering innovation in healthcare delivery, with an emphasis on telehealth, particularly for mental health services.
- The plan includes increasing medical residency slots to retain more physicians in Florida, as evidenced by a report showing a higher likelihood of Florida medical school graduates staying if they complete their residency in the state.
- It also proposes enlarging the FRAME program for healthcare professional retention, extending loan repayments to dental students in underserved areas, simplifying licensure for out-of-state medical practitioners, and introducing new licensure for medical graduates awaiting residency.
- Live Healthy also recommends creating a 15-member Health Care Innovation Council to explore technological advancements in healthcare and proposes increased Medicaid reimbursements for maternal care and funding for Behavioral Health Family Navigators in specialty hospitals.
Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, alongside Sens. Colleen Burton and Gayle Harrell, detailed components of the “Live Healthy” initiative on Thursday, a nearly $1 billion legislative plan to bolster the state’s healthcare workforce and rate of accessibility.
Passidomo’s call for legislation is comprised of a threefold strategy: expanding the healthcare workforce, increasing access to healthcare services, and fostering innovation in healthcare delivery.
During the initiative’s rollout, Passidomo directed attention to what she referred to as the inadequacy of insurance coverage alone in guaranteeing access to healthcare and identified technology as a potential tool to refine healthcare workforce productivity and delivery.
The Senator is looking towards telehealth measures as a means of increased access, particularly for mental health services. Telehealth in Florida has grown in popularity and usage, especially during the pandemic. Upon COVID-19’s mass outbreak, state leaders allowed Floridians to access telehealth appointments through audio-only conversations, though its permissibility was revoked in June 2021.
Another focal point of Passidomo’s plan focuses on increasing medical residency slots. This week, the Florida House Select Committee on Health Innovation discussed the need to increase medical residency slots in the state to retain more physicians after OPPAGA, the legislature’s research arm, reported that Florida medical graduates are more likely to stay if they complete their residency in Florida, with surveys indicating physicians leave for reasons like family proximity, further training, and lifestyle choices.
“Of Florida medical school graduates who started graduate medical education (GME) between calendar years 2008 and 2015 who also went to a Florida GME program, approximately 75 percent were licensed and practicing in Florida two years after completion of their GME training,” OPPAGA’s Wendy Scott told the House committee. “In contrast, only 42 percent of those who started their GME training, but went to medical school outside of Florida were retained as Florida physicians.
The legislature was advised to prioritize Florida graduates for residency programs and to create a strategic plan for graduate medical education, addressing challenges like high living costs and limited job opportunities for spouses.
“We want to make sure our medical school graduates stay in Florida, and also attract more out-of-state residents – not only for their residencies, but to build their lives and medical practices right here in our communities,” said Passidomo on Thursday.
A secondary feature of Live Healthy is expanding the state’s healthcare workforce through the enlargement of the FRAME program, designed to retain healthcare professionals in Florida with increased loan repayments. It additionally extends dental student loan repayments to private practices in underserved areas and simplifies the process for out-of-state APRNs and PAs to practice in Florida. A new Graduate Assistant Physicians (GAP) licensure for medical school graduates awaiting residency is also introduced.
In a memorandum issued to lawmakers last month, Passidomo highlighted a shortfall in healthcare professionals, with an anticipated deficit of nearly 18,000 physicians by 2035. Per the memo, Florida’s projected healthcare workforce would meet just 77 percent of the state’s needs. The nursing sector faces a similar crisis, she wrote, with forecasts indicating a shortage of 37,400 registered nurses and 21,700 licensed practical nurses by the same year.
“[O]ur estimates suggest that over the next five years, our population will grow by almost 300,000 new residents per year,” she said. “While this growth will impact so many areas of public policy, my focus for the upcoming session will be on our health care system. Specifically, growing Florida’s health care workforce, increasing access, and incentivizing innovation, so Floridians can have more options and opportunities to live healthy.”
The framework further seeks to enhance Medicaid reimbursement rates for dental care, nursing services, and various forms of therapy. It also proposes to broaden the eligibility for the LINE program and establish pathways for foreign-trained physicians to practice in Florida, thereby addressing a significant gap in the state’s medical workforce development.
Healthcare access for low-income Floridians serves as a major component in the outline by raising the eligibility threshold for free and charitable clinics. It also establishes a Health Screening and Practitioner Volunteer Portal to support non-profit health service providers.
“Access to health care is important at every phase of life. Insurance does not guarantee access, as even Floridians with great insurance face barriers to care. Live Healthy is a robust package of policy enhancements and strategic investments that will help make sure Florida’s healthcare workforce is growing at the same pace as the rest of our great state,” said Passidomo.
The initiative recommends the formation of a 15-member Health Care Innovation Council, tasked with exploring technological advancements and novel healthcare delivery models. This council would oversee a revolving loan program, allocating $75 million to support the implementation of innovative healthcare solutions, particularly targeting rural and underserved areas.
The plan also proposes increased Medicaid reimbursements for maternal care during labor and delivery and allocates funds for Behavioral Health Family Navigators in specialty hospitals.