TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Trying to expand access to health care, a House panel on Tuesday approved a bill that would authorize the state’s medical boards to waive licensure fees for physicians who provide at least 160 hours of pro bono medical services.

The proposal (HB 1157), sponsored by Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, also would clear the way for the Board of Medicine and the Board of Osteopathic Medicine to issue a limited number of restricted licenses to out-of-state physicians who agree to practice for three years at federally funded community health centers, migrant health centers, free clinics or in medically underserved areas.

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Only physicians who pass background screenings and hold active licenses in the U.S. or Canada could qualify for the restricted licenses.

The bill also would allow retired physicians to provide volunteer health services to indigent people or medically underserved populations.

Only retired physicians who held active licenses and maintained the licenses for 20 years would qualify.

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Moreover, the doctors would be required to work under the supervision of non-retired physicians.

The bill also would change the definition of low-income people from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 400 percent of the federal poverty level for purposes of a law that provides sovereign immunity to health-care providers who sign contracts with county health departments, special taxing districts or government-owned hospitals to serve low-income people.

Sovereign immunity laws place limits on liability in malpractice lawsuits. A Senate version of the bill (SB 1498), sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, has not been heard.

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