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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

The Florida legislature advances a healthcare package to improve access to emergency health care

Gurnys stand idle in the emergency room of the old Cook County Hospital on Monday, June 30, 2003. The Florida legislature are looking for ways to improve access to emergency medical treatment in rural areas. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)
BRIAN KERSEY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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AP
Gurnys stand idle in the emergency room of the old Cook County Hospital on Monday, June 30, 2003. The Florida legislature are looking for ways to improve access to emergency medical treatment in rural areas. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)

The proposal would remove certain services given to patients, in return for a higher reimbursement check from the federal government.

Since last year, emergency care facilities in rural communities have been taking advantage of a federal program that gives rural hospitals extra money for the services they provide to low-income patients who have Medicaid insurance coverage.

In some cases, these additional payments can help keep hospitals out of the red and allow them to afford more prescription drugs and medical supplies. But states must first grant them a license to operate as a rural emergency hospital.

That’s where Florida Senator Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, said he’s willing to lend a helping hand.

Committee on Education Pre-K -12 Chairman state Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, reacts as his SB202 Bill on school vouchers is debated, Wednesday, Mar. 8, 2023, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)
Phil Sears/AP
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FR170567 AP
Committee on Education Pre-K -12 Chairman state Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, reacts as his SB202 Bill on school vouchers is debated, Wednesday, Mar. 8, 2023, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

“Through the new REH Medicare enhancement reimbursement rate, the goal is to ensure hospitals in rural underserved areas remain open and access to health care continue," Simon explained Thursday to a state Senate Appropriations Committee.

Simon has a bill (SB-644) that says for facilities to be considered a rural facility, they must only have 100 or fewer beds and sit in an area where the population does not exceed 100 people per square mile.

Mary Mayhew is the President and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association. She told WFSU on Friday that while her organization supports the legislation, health care workers must understand the accompanying risks.

“The intent was to give rural hospitals another option in the event that they are struggling financially," said Mayhew.

An entrance to Broward Health Medical Center is shown, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Wilfredo Lee/AP
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AP
An entrance to Broward Health Medical Center is shown, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

In return for higher Medicaid reimbursements, hospitals that take on the rural designation would have to give up inpatient services. This would mean hospitals will be forced to find another reimbursement program when treating patients with life-threatening conditions, or surgeries that may require extensive care afterwards.

“Patients can’t stay any longer than 24 hours. Medicare will provide additional enhanced reimbursement for those hospitals that concert to that rural emergency hospital status. So, it’s not the answer for all rural hospitals. It simply yet another option that a hospital may want to consider.”

The bill also presents some education benefits. Included in Simon’s package is a state-run loan program to help nursing students in Florida pay for classes and cover licensing fees.

Adrian Andrews is a multimedia journalist with WFSU Public Media. He is a Gadsden County native and a first-generation college graduate from Florida A&M University. Adrian is also a military veteran, ending his career as a Florida Army National Guard Non-Comissioned Officer.

Adrian has experience in print writing, digital content creation, documentary, and film production. He has spent the last four years on the staff of several award-winning publications such as The Famuan, Gadsden County News Corp, and Cumulus Media before joining the WFSU news team.