Legislation would keep medical professionals working through student loan debt troubles

Published: Dec. 6, 2019 at 5:04 PM EST
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By: Jake Stofan | Captiol News Service

December 6, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) — Nurses are in short supply in the state of Florida and medical professionals have called the situation even worse than the teacher shortage.

Compounding the problem is a law that allows the Department of Health to suspend medical professionals’ licenses if they don’t pay back student loans.

Nearly half of Florida’s nurses are over the age of 50.

About 37,000 are expected to retire within the next five years.

Martha DeCastro with the Florida Hospital Association believes the shortage is reaching a crisis level.

“It's not possible for the educational programs to replace all of them in time,” said DeCastro.

The state is making the shortage worse.

The Department of Health can suspend or even revoke medical professionals’ licenses if they fall behind on government-backed student loan debt.

One hundred and twenty-one suspensions were issued last year alone.

“Taking away that ability for them to go out there and practice their profession as well as earn money to pay down their debt is very counter intuitive,” said Brewster Bevis with the Associated Industries of Florida.

Nationwide, about 70% of nurses report graduating with debt.

On average they owe roughly $30,000 out of school.

But a new bill moving in both the House and Senate called the ‘Keep our Graduates Working Act’ would take away the state’s ability to suspend licenses based on student debt alone.

"This isn't just wiping their debt, however, it does remove the state's ability or these agencies' ability to simply take away their licensing and their ability to go out there and earn money,” said Bevis.

The bill faced opposition last year from some lawmakers who worried it would lead to more people failing to pay off their loans, but this year attitudes are changing.

Rep Randy Fine came to support the bill after seeing data from other states that showed Florida’s penalties aren’t working.

“This, 'we'll take away your license if you don't pay your student loans’ is not actually increasing the rate of people paying them,” said Fine.

And DeCastro said anything the state can do to keep medical professionals working goes a long way in the Sunshine State.

“We know that our population is growing. We know our population is aging,” said DeCastro.

The bill gets its second committee hearing in the senate on Monday and its second in the House Wednesday.

Copyright 2019 Capitol News Service. All rights reserved.