Senate unanimously passes ‘Live Healthy’ Act

by | Jan 18, 2024

The Florida Senate unanimously passed the Live Healthy Act, a healthcare reform package designed to increase medical care access and address workforce shortages in the state.

The Florida Senate unanimously passed the Live Healthy Act on Thursday, a legislative package championed by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo that aims to enhance the state’s healthcare system by increasing access to medical care and addressing workforce shortages.

The package primarily consists of two bills, SB 7016 and SB 7018, alongside ancillary measures, and includes provisions for Medicaid rate increases, graduate medical education funding, and a health care screening and service grant program. The Senate approved the bills with amendments that reduced the proposed spending by approximately $120 million.

“The broad appeal of the free state of Florida continues to attract families, businesses, and seniors at a rate of 300,000 new residents per year. Unfortunately, these new Floridians are not bringing their healthcare providers with them. Our comprehensive Live Healthy proposals will help grow Florida’s healthcare workforce, increase access, and incentivize innovation, so Floridians can have more options and opportunities to live healthy here in the Sunshine State,” said Passidomo following the vote.

SB 7016, sponsored by Sen. Colleen Burton, focuses on increasing the state’s healthcare workforce by allocating $50 million to add 500 medical residency slots, establishing the Training, Education, and Clinicals in Health (TEACH) Funding Program, and increasing funding for the Florida Reimbursement Assistance for Medical and Dental Education (FRAME) by $30 million.

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 was also introduced.

“We are expanding sites for clinical training to include more rural and difficult-to-access locations, so sick and injured Floridians do not have to travel long distances for care,” said Burton. “We are increasing access to preventative health screenings to ensure early diagnosis and better management of chronic disease. And, we are streamlining emergency departments through partnerships with Community Health Centers and other primary care settings so care that is urgently needed, but not life-threatening, can be handled outside of the hospital emergency room in a more efficient and cost-effective setting.”

The bill does not expand Medicaid coverage to childless low-income adults but introduces a grant program to assist uninsured, low-income residents with no-cost health care screenings and services.

SB 7018, sponsored by Sen. Gayle Harrell, reduces funding for a low-interest revolving loan program from $75 million annually to $50 million.

“What government can do is facilitate the exploration and implementation of innovative technologies and delivery models that increase efficiency, reduce strain on the health care workforce, improve patient outcomes, expand public access to care, and reduce costs for patients and taxpayers without impacting the quality of patient care,” said Harrell.

The framework further seeks to enhance Medicaid reimbursement rates for dental care, nursing services, and various forms of therapy. It also broadens the eligibility for the LINE program and establishes 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 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 additionally 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.

“Our Health Care Innovation Council will convene experts on the delivery of health care to examine solutions to improve the delivery and quality of health care in our state and develop a loan program to support implementation of innovative solutions,” said Harrell.

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.

In a memorandum issued to lawmakers in November, 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.”


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