As the Florida Legislature moves toward adjournment, a pair of medical bills are on the radar screens of local lawmakers and health care providers.
One, House Bill 523, would fully empower Halifax Health and its hospital-taxing district to build, own and operate inpatient medical facilities outside its district’s boundaries.
Halifax is building a hospital in Deltona, but lost a court challenge filed by an East Volusia taxpayer, who said the agency should not be taking tax dollars out of town to build new facilities.
“That bill is going to be taken up in the Senate today,” Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, a sponsor of the bill, told The Beacon May 1.
The Legislature will adjourn at midnight Friday, May 3, unless lawmakers extend the session.
Santiago predicted HB 523 will be approved in the upper chamber, just as it has already passed in the Florida House with a unanimous vote.
The bill, would amend the Halifax Hospital District’s enabling act, adopted in 1925, by authorizing Halifax to establish medical facilities outside its district and offer services to people outside its district.
Halifax’s westward expansion, years in planning, took concrete — no pun intended — shape in 2017, when it opened a free-standing emergency center on Deltona’s north side and began preparations for a medical campus anchored by a full-fledged inpatient facility.
Former Ponce Inlet Mayor Nancy Epps, concerned the Deltona hospital would be built with tax dollars taken from her side of the county, sued the hospital and the taxing district to halt the project.
The courts subsequently ruled in her favor, even though the construction of the Deltona hospital continued.
The Halifax Hospital District covers much of east and northeast Volusia County, and a board of commissioners appointed by the governor levies ad valorem taxes to help fund indigent care and medical services within the district.
The West Volusia Hospital Authority collects taxes from property owners on the west side of the county.
Even before it constructed the free-standing emergency department that is now morphing into a 90-bed hospital near the interchange of Interstate 4 and Howland Boulevard, Halifax Health opened a hospice center in Orange City and a primary-care facility in Deltona.
Halifax also operates a thrift shop in Orange City.
A second medical-related measure has already passed both houses of the Florida Legislature.
This new law seeks to reform the health care system with more market-based initiatives and less regulation.
The bill eliminates the current procedure for opening hospitals or expanding medical services.
No longer would the opening or enlargement of a hospital be dependent on the state’s issuance of a special license, known as a certificate of need, that restricts the number of patient beds and forces the entity to prove the need for the facility.
“They’ll still have to meet the standards of a hospital,” Santiago said, noting the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration will be in charge of regulating efforts to build or expand hospitals.
The bill also encourages more outpatient surgery, and includes provisions on treatment supported by Santiago.
“One of my bills got wrapped up in the measure, and it deals with step therapy on prescription drugs,” Santiago told The Beacon. “If you have taken a drug that did not help you, and if you change to another insurance company, they can’t require you to take that drug again as a part of your treatment.”