DeSantis signs bills that supporters say could improve access to health care

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a package of bills Thursday that supporters say will help improve access to health care, increase the number of doctors in Florida and address issues such as mental health treatment.

What they (state leaders) are addressing right now are some of the biggest challenges we face in the Sunshine State, and that’s access to health care in a way that’s reliable, reproducible, and sustainable. said Tampa General Hospital President and CEO John. Couris, who participated in a bill signing event in Bonita Springs. They faced a myriad of challenges in the health industry, in the health system. There is a critical shortage of the healthcare workforce. We have seen exceptional growth in labor costs. Patients are struggling to access the care they need, and demand for behavioral health services is at an all-time high.

The bills were a priority for Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican who dubbed them the Healthy Living Initiative. Passidomo aimed Thursday to try to meet the health care needs of a rapidly growing population.

Unfortunately, new Floridians don’t take their health care providers with them, Passidomo said. We were going to change that. The good news is that Live Healthy will help grow Florida’s healthcare workforce, increase access, spur innovation so Floridians can have more choices and opportunities to live healthy lives here in the Sunshine State.

DeSantis signed five bills, though much of the attention has focused on a broad measure (SB 7016) that includes $717 million in spending. The bill, for example, will provide money to increase physician residency slots and put additional dollars into loan forgiveness programs for health professionals.

The bill will also take measures related to the workforce, such as helping clear the way for foreign-trained doctors to practice in Florida.

The health care workforce is a challenge, said state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who participated in the bill signing event. It is often difficult to get appointments, especially with specialist doctors. It’s hard to get a physical therapy appointment. It’s hard to see a nurse practitioner.

The bill also includes issues such as trying to move patients out of hospital emergency rooms for non-emergency conditions. It will require hospitals to take steps to divert patients, such as creating a collaborative partnership with federally qualified health centers or other primary care providers.

The bill also includes allowing advanced birth centers to be able to offer cesarean deliveries for women who have what are considered low-risk pregnancies. Birth centers already exist but are not authorized to perform caesarean sections, which are surgical procedures performed in hospitals.

Other bills signed Thursday include a measure (SB 7018) that will provide $50 million annually for a revolving loan fund program for health innovation projects. The program will offer loans at a maximum interest rate of 1 percent, with priority given to applicants such as rural hospitals and organizations that provide care in medically underserved areas.

Another bill (SB 330) would designate four university-affiliated behavioral health teaching hospitals to help address issues related to treating patients with mental health conditions.

Affiliated behavioral health teaching hospitals will be Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida; UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville and the University of Florida; UF Health Jacksonville and the University of Florida; and Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and the University of Miami. The bill would also allow the State Agency for Health Care Administration to designate additional behavioral health teaching hospitals beginning July 1, 2025.

The bill would provide $100 million a year over the next three years to teaching hospitals, with additional money for things like residency positions for psychiatrists.

I said, look, I want more beds for mental health patients, especially people who can’t function in society, DeSantis said. And so I think that’s going to be a key component of that, and I think that’s going to be a very, very significant thing.

Other bills signed into law were a measure (SB 1758) that addresses programs and services of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities and a measure (SB 322) that creates a public records exemption for certain health care professionals.

The bills passed the Legislature with little opposition, although Democrats repeatedly argued that the package should include expanding Medicaid eligibility, an idea rejected by leaders for the past decade republicans

Passidomo made it clear when he began moving forward with the legislation that he would not consider expanding Medicaid.

Access to health care is important at every stage of life, Passidomo said Thursday. Insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare, does not guarantee access. Even highly insured Floridians face barriers to care.

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