TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida lawmakers have a new vision for the tourism industry.
Forget Mickey Mouse and the beaches. Their goal is to make Florida an international destination for people seeking top-notch medical care.
Proposals in the state House and Senate seek to pump $5 million in each of the next four years into efforts to promote Florida's health care industry to patients worldwide.
That's welcome news to providers like Broward Health, a public health system that sees thousands of so-called medical tourists each year.
"It will only enhance the activities that have already been going on at our hospital," said Abbe Bendell of Broward Health International.
Also standing to benefit: hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions near hospitals.
The measure has bipartisan support in the Legislature.
The Mayo Clinic, which operates a hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., has similar ambitions in Minnesota.
It's developing the Destination Medical Center to compete with other medical centers. Officials expect that the project, paid for with a mix of public and private funds, will reshape downtown Rochester.
Renee-Marie Stephano, president of the Palm Beach County-based Medical Tourism Association, said it will take more than marketing dollars to make Florida a hot spot for medical tourism.
"Some of those funds should be allocated to underlying service development, like helping health care providers understand the unique needs of international patients," she said.
Medical tourism isn't a new concept for the Sunshine State.
"Medical tourism has existed in Florida since Ponce de Leon set out in search of the Fountain of Youth," said Republican state Sen. Aaron Bean, a sponsor of the bill.
As transportation and communications technology have improved, more people are seeking medical care outside of their communities.
The global medical tourism market is valued between $10 billion and $60 billion.
Stephano said Florida could easily become "an epicenter" for the industry.
"Most people travel with a family member," she said. "It's important to know you are going somewhere desirable. Florida is definitely desirable."