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Health Professionals Aided On Loan Defaults

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

With no discussion, the Florida Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that would shield health-care providers from disciplinary action if they default on student loans. 

The Senate voted 35-1 to pass the bill (HB 115), with Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, opposed. The House unanimously approved the bill last month, meaning it is now ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Under current law, state health officials are required to issue emergency suspensions of practitioners’ licenses if they default on government-backed student loans and do not attempt to repay the amounts.

The law requires the state Department of Health each month to obtain a list of health-care practitioners who have defaulted on their government-backed loans. The state must notify the practitioners they have defaulted and give them 45 days to provide proof of new repayment plans.

If they don’t, the law requires the health department to issue emergency orders suspending the practitioners’ licenses. The state could ultimately pursue disciplinary cases against the practitioners. The bill, in part, would do away with the requirement that the Department of Health suspend licenses until practitioners agree to new payment terms.

The measure would also prohibit state health officials from denying, refusing to renew or suspending licenses solely because providers were delinquent or defaulted on loans. According to a staff analysis of the bill, there were 722 cases against practitioners for defaulting on student loans during the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

The state mediated agreements in about 46 percent of the cases. Florida passed the initial law in 2002 after a federal report showed that 9,454 practitioners nationwide had defaulted on student loans, including 556 in Florida.