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Senate Committee Wants Medical Tourists

The state will spend $5 million next year to entice people to bring their aches and pains to Florida, under a measure that completed its first Senate committee exam on Monday.

The Commerce and Tourism Committee unanimously backed the "medical tourism" measure (SB 1150) by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. The bill would require Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private business recruitment organization, and Visit Florida, the state's tourism arm, to promote healthcare options in Florida.

"Florida can and should be a top-tier health care destination," Bean said.

Medical tourism can range from seeking specialized cardiac surgery and orthopedics to routine procedures for dental care or cosmetic surgeries, according to a legislative staff report.

In support of the proposal, Layne Smith, representing Mayo Clinic Hospital in Jacksonville, said officials with the medical facility estimate the center draws more than 20,000 people a year to Florida for services at the facility.

"Patients that come as medical tourists tend to be sicker, because they're seeking answers," Smith said. "When a person comes as a medical tourist, a lot will bring their family as a support group with them. They're staying for the long haul."

Visit Florida would receive $3.5 million to set up a four-year plan to promote Florida's medical providers, their services and specialties.

Visit Florida would also be directed to use $1.5 million of its state funding to establish a matching grant program for local and regional economic development organizations that have medical tourism marketing programs.

Meanwhile, Enterprise Florida would be directed to work with the Department of Economic Opportunity to market Florida as a health care destination.

The proposal must still go through the Health Policy and Appropriations committees.

The House companion (HB 1223) has yet to make any of its three scheduled stops: Finance and Tax Subcommittee; Appropriations Committee; and Economic Affairs Committee.