Telehealth bills up for debate in Florida Legislature could make it easier to buy glasses and contacts online



The Florida Legislature is currently considering bills that would make it easier for people to get some of their healthcare services, possibly including eye care, online.

The "telehealth" bills would allow doctors use technology to provide health services to patients remotely. It's a big change that has many industry groups at odds over the regulatory framework.

Supporters say the expansion should include ocular telehealth, or online eye care. They say it can provide affordable and much-needed access to people in hard-to-reach communities.

Mari Corugedo, Florida state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, says her group supports the idea.

"Sometimes online, you are able to get deals as long as you have a prescription, and it doesn't eliminate the doctor," says Corugedo. "It just makes it a little more accessible for people to be able to fulfill those prescriptions and needs."
But industry groups like the American Optometric Association have been lobbying against ocular telehealth, citing safety concerns and saying that in-person comprehensive eye exams should remain the gold standard.

For now, efforts to restrict the online options have been removed from the Florida bills as other differences are being hammered out by lawmakers.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology, which represents medical doctors, says it supports telehealth as a means to expand the physician-patient relationship beyond the exam room.

Linda Sherry, director of national priorities with the group Consumer Action, says safeguards would remain in place when being checked by a doctor online, who can ultimately decide whether an in-person visit is necessary.

"If you think about it, this is really kind of pushing in on the gravy train of optometrists, because optometrists would love to have you back in the office for a full-scale exam, even though that may only be a year from when you got your eyes tested," says Sherry. (Opthalmologists are M.D.s who specialize in ocular disease; optometrists perform eye exams and can prescribe glasses and contacts, as well as diagnose the presence of eye disease, but are not trained or licensed for surgical procedures.)

Both the Florida House and Senate are moving closer to agreement on their respective telehealth bills. For instance, the House version would establish permanent tax credits for insurers and Health Maintenance Organizations, while the Senate wants to offer the credits for a limited time.

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