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Florida lawmakers work to make some pandemic policies permanent

'We're building the plane as we're flying it,' State Sen. Danny Burgess says
Telehealth file photo
Posted at 4:32 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 16:42:52-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — While Florida continues dealing with the pandemic, there have been some benefits.

It's led to health care access for some patients with telehealth services growing, and restrictions for medical workers eased.

Florida lawmakers are now moving to make a few of those changes permanent.

The expansion of telehealth services during the pandemic was vital for Nathanael Prada.

"The thought of going into a clinic full of individuals who might be sick, that's just not a possibility in my mind," said the South Florida resident.

Instead, executive orders allowed him to treat severe anxiety with a simple phone call, what's known as "telephonic" care. It's an option for those who lack the technology to video chat.

"Without telephonic services, I would probably go without," Prada told us during the summer surge of Florida's COVID-19 cases.

State lawmakers want to make that freedom permanent with bills in the House and the Senate (SB 660/ HB 247). The legislation would remove language which prevents "audio-only" during telehealth appointments.

"I do think there are some limitations there that we can remove," said Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah Gardens, sponsoring one of the bills.

State Sen. Manny Diaz
State Sen. Manny Diaz is one of the supporters seeking to make the telehealth service changes permanent.

The legislation from Diaz allows for the prescription of controlled substances during telehealth visits.

“As long as it is something that can be dealt with— a checkup or things of that nature— I think we need to expand that to allow for access," Diaz said.

Another policy lawmakers are advancing (SB 494) gives pharmacists more power to vaccinate during health emergencies. They would no longer need the governor’s approval to act.

State Sen. Danny Burgess
State Sen. Danny Burgess believes codifying the temporary policies makes sense.

"Yeah, we're building the plane as we're flying it," Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills.

Burgess is sponsoring the legislation, which cleared its first committee Thursday with unanimous support. He also chairs the Senate's Pandemic Preparedness Committee and says codifying these temporary policies makes sense.

"Viruses were here before us. Viruses will be here after us," he said. "Not only is this going to help us through today, it's going to help us through tomorrow when that next pandemic strikes."

That's a possibility that Prada said will be a little less worrisome if these changes stay put.

The bills still have several committee hurdles to clear before getting to the House and Senate floors for final approval. The legislative session starts March 2, a little less than a month from now.