by Andrew Powell
The Florida Senate Banking and Insurance Committee met on Wednesday and approved a bill to revise the definition of telehealth by allowing audio-only patient services.
Telehealth is a service that connects consumers in rural areas with health professionals from the comfort and convenience of their homes. This service includes lab tests or X-ray results, mental health treatment – which can include online therapy, counseling and medication management.
Other recurring conditions like migraines or urinary tract infections can also be managed via telehealth, as well as post-surgical follow-ups, urgent care issues, physical and occupational therapy and remote monitoring services for conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Senate Bill 298 was presented by State Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, who proposed to permanently include audio-only calls.
“Senate Bill 298 removes a provision in the definition of telehealth that excludes audio-only telephone calls. This change allows Medicaid to elect to reimburse for audio-only telephone calls.” Boyd said.
Telehealth has become a go-to for those who are not able to see a nurse or doctor.
“Audio-only telehealth provides easy access for those in rural communities, its cost effective, convenient, time saving and reduces the risk of exposure in the spread of infections and improves continuity of care.” Boyd said.
Telehealth became popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, although Florida was closed down for only a few weeks, it was still convenient for patients as restrictions and guidelines with social distancing caused backlogs in appointments.
“As you may recall, during the pandemic, the governor enacted an emergency order that allowed this to happen and when that expired, telehealth audio-only was not allowed, so this just enacts this as being an option for telehealth.” Boyd said.
The bill got unanimous support and was reported favorably.
Also on the committee agenda was SB 564, which deals with interchange fees on taxes, which was presented by State Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast. He wants to permanently nix interchange taxes for Florida businesses.
“Every time a consumer swipes a debit or credit card, Florida businesses pay interchange fees on the total amount charged. This includes both the price of the goods, accommodation or service sold and any state imposed sales tax.” Hutson said.
The bill will work towards reducing the interchange fee for merchants by excluding the state-imposed sales tax when the interchange fee is worked out during the transaction.
“The bill would create a procedure for merchants to report the sales taxes to the payment card network either when processing the consumer’s transaction or at a later date with supporting documentation.” Hutson said.
According to Hutson, once the sales tax amounts are transmitted, this legislation would require a simple subtraction of the amount of the sales taxes to determine a reduction refund or credit of the corresponding portion of the interchange fees.
Proponents argued that the cost will simply be passed on to the consumer, while making it easier for scammers to steal money because interchange fees pay for security measures.
Supporters of the bill argued that the second highest cost for retail businesses after labor is interchange fees, which amounted to over $280 million for the 7% sales tax portion of the fee in 2022.
Overall, based on total taxable sales, Florida businesses paid over $4 billion in interchange fees for fiscal year 2022.
SB 564 was reported favorably.
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Andrew Powell is a reporter at The Center Square.