2015 Florida Legislature: Predictions for High Profile Health Care Issues

By: Stephen H. Siegel, Esq.

Once the elections are over and we know the identity of Florida’s next governor and the composition of the Florida Legislature, a great deal of attention will be given to determining which pieces of legislation will be considered and which stand a likelihood of being adopted in some form. While there are likely to be multiple bills introduced during the Florida Legislature’s 2015 session that could have an impact on the state’s health care industry, this article discusses two issues, medical marijuana and the expansion of ARNP and PA prescription privileges, that seem likely both to attract a great deal of attention and have a significant chance that something will be passed and sent to the governor for his signature or veto.

Medical Marijuana

As this is being written, the polls are predicting that Amendment 2, which legalizes “medical marijuana”, will be adopted in November. As a consequence, the regulation of medical marijuana is likely to be a major topic for the 2015 Florida Legislature. If that occurs, some observers have predicted that the regulation of medical marijuana in this state will follow the path already being developed under the “Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act” of 2014, commonly referred to as “Charlotte’s Web”.

During the last session, the Florida Legislature passed and Governor Scott signed the Charlotte’s Web legislation, which is limited to the treatment of individuals suffering from epilepsy, cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In addition to focusing on certain specific medical conditions, this legislation established precedents concerning the strength of the marijuana that may be provided, as well as who may grow and distribute this product. For example, only five (5) growers will be licensed in the State of Florida to grow marijuana for this purpose.

In contrast to the Charlottes’ Web legislation, Amendment 2 will encompass a much wider range of medical diagnoses and conditions for which medical marijuana may be prescribed, distributed, and administered. There is every reason to anticipate that the legitimate demand for medical marijuana in Florida will grow exponentially; even without considering any efforts to abuse, circumvent, or otherwise undermine the purposes of Amendment 2. As a consequence, the Florida Legislature is going to be faced with the challenge of developing a scheme that will enable the healthcare community to meet patients’ legitimate demands for medical marijuana. If that does not happen, the Legislature will be creating an environment that will only encourage for the development of an even more active and thriving marijuana black market that that which currently exists.

Prescribing Rights

A second topic that is likely to be a of major focus in the healthcare legislative arena next year will be legislation authorizing an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (“ARNP”) or Physician Assistant (“PA”) to practice within the full scope of his/her license. Currently in Florida, these allied health care practitioners are not permitted to prescribe a number of drugs that are widely used to treat individuals’ medical conditions. This is contrary to the laws governing these professionals in the majority of states. With the increasing recognition that Florida needs primary care practitioners, the pressure to reduce the cost of care, and the realization that the care provided by ARNPs and PAs (within certain limits) is equal to the care provided by licensed physicians, opposition to granting these professionals full prescribing rights more and more appears to be an anachronism.

Medical marijuana and scope of practice legislation are just two of the issues the healthcare community should be focusing on during the upcoming session of the Florida Legislature.

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