Last year, Florida, through the Division of Medical Quality Assurance, launched flhealthsource.gov which gave consumers a searchable internet database containing information about every doctor in the state. The information available includes whether a doctor has been sued for malpractice, whether their license has been suspended or if they have a criminal record. A potential patient can also see information about a physician’s education, training and specialty certifications. They can also find out where the doctor has staff privileges and academic appointments. This is important information that physicians update, and physicians and potential patients can use the site to learn about the license renewal process.
Consumers should be interested to know that the Division of Medical Quality Assurance licenses and regulates more than 200 license types in more than 40 health care professions. The agency issued initial licenses and registration to more than 4,100 doctors and nearly 1,500 medical residents between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, according to its annual report. That was a 29 percent increase over the previous four years.
Such information hopefully will improve the healthcare here in Florida since they are currently ranked very low in the country, according to a recent study from the personal-finance website Wallet Hub. One Northeast Florida public health expert said that has more to do with state policy than it does with the quality of doctors. WalletHub looked at three different health care factors: cost, access and outcome. Based on their factors, Florida is the 38th best in the nation. University of North Florida Public Health Chair Jeff Harrison told Health News Florida that the study is fair and thorough. He noted the worst marks are in access and costs categories.
Harrison said the Legislature could have done a lot more to raise the state’s ranking, especially in the access category. He pointed out that six of the study’s top 10 states have some form of expanded Medicaid.
Since the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act, Florida lawmakers haven’t found agreement on expanding Medicaid to higher-income residents. The last attempt to collect federal dollars for expanding state-run insurance was a Senate-supported, private alternative that failed last year after the House rejected it and concluded the legislative session early.
Versions of two bills dealing with those areas of access were passed this year: One measure allows nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to prescribe some controlled substances, but doesn’t permit them to practice independently of a licensed doctor. The other stops short of setting up a regulatory system for telemedicine and instead creates a taskforce that’ll make recommendations on a way forward.
WalletHub found that Florida has the second lowest adult insurance rate and the fourth lowest insurance rate for children.
That low insured rate is also a major reason why the Sunshine State ranks 31st in health outcomes. Without coverage, Floridians often seek medical help when conditions are at their worst and most expensive to treat rather than taking advantage of preventive medicine like primary care checkups.
Some opponents of Medicaid expansion disputed that, pointing to studies that showed spikes in emergency room visits by the newly insured, but others — like one UCLA survey — found that spike to be temporary.
UNF Professor Jeff Harrison said if you’re looking for why health care costs are so high in Florida, a good place to start is with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.
“EMTALA allows everyone access to an emergency room regardless of your ability to pay … but what that does is it may force portions of the population that don’t have access to an expanded program into hospital emergency rooms, which creates a vicious cycle because you’re treating those individuals in a higher cost environment,” Harrison said.
Last legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott made it a important to stop what he called hospital “price gouging” by encouraging a bill creating an online database of average procedure costs at Florida hospitals. The measure also provided some penalties for hospitals who continuously charge a patient above a certain amount of the average rate.
Gov. Scott also signed into law banning the practice of so-called “surprise billing,” which is when a doctor charges a patient for the difference between what their insurer covers and the procedure’s cost. Insurance companies and health care providers will now have to fight in court over disagreements instead of involving the consumer.
What should we expect in the future? Jacksonville medical malpractice attorneys want you to know that the growing population could potentially further strain the state’s healthcare finances. As WFSU reports, the newest state budget projection could spell trouble for the legislative process in 2017. According to the estimate from the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR), Medicaid spending will increase, leaving lawmakers with $7.5 million for discretionary projects next year. Although that’s including putting $1 billion in reserves, EDR foresees the state falling into a budget hole in 2018. All of this is made worse by the fact the federal government’s contribution to the state’s Low Income Pool program for indigent health care is set to expire at the end of this year. That program began with the federal government matching a state contribution of $1 billion, then drew down to $500 million and ended this year with a contribution of just over $300 million. Without those funds, safety net hospitals, local governments and the Legislature will be responsible for covering the cost of health care for the poor.
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a medical neglect or medical harm, contact us at Edwards & Ragatz for a free consultation. (904)399-1609 or (866)366-1609. www.edwardsragatz.com
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