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Magic Johnson Visits Florida Lawmakers

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Magic Johnson-EdisonLearning Assist
The Florida Channel
Magic Johnson

Earvin "Magic" Johnson was on a different kind of scouting trip on Monday. The Basketball Hall of Famer, who is the President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Lakers, was visiting the Florida Capitol to meet with lawmakers about health care and further awareness of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Johnson, who is an investor and spokesman for Simply Healthcare Plans, met with various House and Senate committees as the Legislature began its second week of the session.

Simply Healthcare's contract is up for renewal. The company and its affiliates serve more than 200,000 residents who are enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The managed care provider also offers a plan for those on Medicaid who have HIV or AIDS.

Johnson said meeting with community leaders and pastors has helped take some of the stigma away from the disease.

Johnson, who returned to the Lakers in an executive capacity last month, retired from basketball in 1991 after testing positive for HIV.

"We have had so many effective town hall meetings of people who were living with HIV and AIDS," Johnson said. "That sort of had them say, 'Maybe I can come out to my family that I do have HIV and people will accept me and people won't discriminate against me.' "

Senate Democrat leader Oscar Braynon was critical of the state Department of Health's lack of attention to the increase of HIV cases during last year's session, which led to Dr. John Armstrong not being confirmed as surgeon general. Since the appointment of Dr. Celeste Philip by Gov. Rick Scott, Braynon said he feels as if progress has been made.

Braynon noted that officials now are discussing it but that the next step is finding out why there has been an increase in HIV cases. He is hoping that a needle exchange pilot program that was approved last year for Miami-Dade County can go statewide.

Johnson also pointed toward improved dental care access to children, which has gone up 21 percent over four years. Nearly half (49 percent) now have access to dental care, which is near the national average.

"We have been efficient and effective with taxpayer money and making sure they can be proud of what they are doing," he said. "Working with the state we have over-delivered to our patients, to the state of Florida and we will continue to do so if we are rewarded the contract once again."