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Senate, House Differ on Telemedicine

A Senate committee Wednesday approved a proposal aimed at boosting the use of the telemedicine in Florid, a plan that differs significantly from the House’s plan.

The Senate Health Policy Committee voted 7-2 for a measure (SPB 7028) that would establish guidelines and requirements for health providers who want to treat patients remotely through the use of Internet and telecommunications technology.

A House select committee on Monday passed its version (HB 751), but the two chambers appear to disagree about the amount of regulation that should be applied to telemedicine. The House version includes relatively light regulation. But the Senate bill, for example, would limit the definition of telemedicine providers to physicians.

The Florida Nurses Association and other groups objected to such a limitation Wednesday. Stan Whittaker, chairman of the Florida Association of Nurse Practitioners, said nurse practitioners would be "severely limited, if not left out, by the bill."

When asked about the issue, Senate Health Policy Chairman Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, pointed to the fact that physicians have been to medical school. The only dissenters on the Senate committee were Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring.

Bean and others cautioned that the Senate bill likely will face changes as the legislative session moves forward. "It's a start," Bean said. "We've got a long way to go."

Bill Would Push Condos, Apartments Into Citizens' Clearinghouse

Condominiums and apartment complexes now covered by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. would have to be run through a new clearinghouse being used to shed homeowners' policies from the state-backed insurer, under a bill tentatively backed Wednesday in the Senate.

Members of the Banking and Insurance Committee gave support, without a vote, to a proposal (SPB 7062) by Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, that would include a requirement for Citizens to expand its clearinghouse to include commercial-residential properties by Oct. 1, 2015.

"The idea is that if there is a better price in the private market than Citizens, then by golly the private market is going to take it," Simmons said.

Simmons said he'd also like to push for Citizens to no longer write commercial, non-residential policies, but that isn't included in the proposal, which must still return to the committee for a formal vote. The commercial-residential policies account for about 20 percent of Citizens' total risk, worth approximately $4.065 billion, according to a staff analysis.

Michael Peltier, a spokesman for Citizens, said it wasn't immediately known how the expansion of the clearinghouse would impact the system. Last August, the Citizens board approved a five-year contract with Bolt Solutions, Inc., to design the software for the clearinghouse. The contract, which has an option for an additional five years, could total $44.9 million over the decade.

Through the clearinghouse, if coverage by a private firm is found within 15 percent of Citizens' premium for a new single-family policy, the policy would go to the private carrier.

For customers who now have Citizens coverage, policy renewals will enter the clearinghouse starting July 1. For existing Citizens customers, renewals will have to go to the private market if comparable coverage is found at or below the state-backed insurer's rates.

Reducing the number of polices, and thus the potential exposure to the state, has been a focus of government officials for several years.

All-Star Game Tax Exemptions Sailing In Senate

A Senate panel Wednesday approved a bill (SB 330) that would lift the state's admissions tax for fans who attend future Major League Soccer all-star games in Florida.

Also, the bill would make clear that the tax wouldn't be imposed on events surrounding National Basketball Association all-star games.

The proposal, aimed at enticing more all-star games to Florida, was unanimously approved by the Senate Finance and Tax Subcommittee.

The state already lifts the tax on admissions to all-star games hosted by Major League Baseball, the NBA, the National Hockey League, the National Football League's championship games and the Pro Bowl, and any semifinal game or championship game of a national collegiate tournament.

The tax isn't currently imposed for baseball's Home Run Derby, along with the NBA Rookie Challenge, Celebrity Game, 3-Point Shooting Contest and Slam Dunk Challenge. The measure gives a more "generic" designation to such events surrounding the NBA all-star game.

Bill sponsor David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said the change is intended to avoid the possibility that the state Department of Revenue would start to impose the admission tax if the names of those events are changed.

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