Q&A: Sen. Shev Jones’ outlook on health care in 2021 and his legislative priorities for 2022

Senator Shev Jones (D – Miami) is a member of the Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. He’s also a member of the Florida Senate Health Policy Committee. 

Jones spoke with State of Reform about how health care has looked this past year for Florida and what his priorities are leading into the next legislative session, which will convene on Jan. 11. 

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Ethan Kispert: What’s your view of health care in Florida over this past year? Were your expectations met legislatively in terms of health care? 

Senator Shev Jones: “I think the expectation would have been met years ago if we would have expanded Medicaid, but we know Florida is not going in that direction. We not only have diverse needs when it comes to the economy and education, but we have diverse needs, which is probably the largest part of our budget, in health care. COVID did not make this any better because it will just show where the disparities are when we look at health care throughout the state.

How did Florida handle it? Well I think we do a lot of patchwork because we are constantly moving trying to fill holes or to avoid federal dollars that we could have had to be able to fill a lot of those gaps that we have [in health care]. Our hospitals get a great deal of dollars from the federal government. But even before [COVID], hospitals were struggling trying to figure out what was the best way to continue providing care for Floridians without going bankrupt themselves. I do believe that the Medicaid role has grown over the last couple of months due to COVID. Florida is going to have to figure out [what to do] when no more federal dollars are coming down to help aid in restoring our economy due to COVID…”

EK: I want to shift gears a bit. Do you have any legislative priorities for health care in 2022? Any bills you have your eye on?

SJ: “One of the bills that I’m really [going to] be pushing next year is just called “incentivize health care.” It really is to incentivize doctors and nurses that take Medicaid patients. The intent of this bill would be to create a program to incentivize doctors and nurses to treat minority populations and those that are on Medicaid and Medicare. Right now in the state of Florida, we have a financial incentive for doctors under the Medical Education Reimbursement and Loan Repayment Program that provides doctors with about $20,000 loan forgiveness for each year that they practice in areas with health care shortages and underserved areas. 

I’m working with Representative Kamia Brown and will follow her in amending the program to also include this incentive proposition so that nurses can provide primary care to racial and ethnic minority populations regardless of their location.” 

EK: You make an interesting point about health care in underserved communities. You mentioned one bill — were there any other particular bills that you have your eyes on?

SJ: “One of the other ones that we are doing is reducing health care disparities in sickle cell disease …As you know, sickle cell is inherited in blood that’s mostly common for African American and Hispanic people. I believe that the State of Florida should continue to be a leader, look at research, and provide the necessary resources for individuals who are battling the sickle cell disease. 

Another one of the bills that I’m working on is Senate Bill 630, which passed the Criminal Justice Committee last weekend. This [bill] requires every woman who was arrested to be notified that she has a right to request a pregnancy test if she is still in custody 72 hours after her arrest. It also requires a judge to offer a pregnant woman who was convicted of a crime the opportunity to defer her sentence until about 12 weeks after the delivery of her baby. So that means that we have to give her the opportunity so that she can still receive necessary health care for herself, and that also includes miscarriages.”

EK: How much of a problem is access to care for incarcerated pregnant women right now for Florida? 

SJ: “You saw it in Alachua County about three months ago. We also saw it in the Broward sheriff’s office when Erica Thompson had her baby and she was not supervised nor was she asked whether she was pregnant.

Ava’s Law says that the facility must ask a woman whether or not she’s pregnant, and even after she had that baby it gives her the right to needed medical attention. [Women] are the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population. According to the Criminal Justice Committee, they predicted an estimated 47% of women are pregnant when being committed to prison. That may seem small, but it’s a large number.”

EK: Going back to the incentives for doctors serving underserved populations, are doctors less and less motivated to treat these populations because of a lack of incentives? 

SJ: “It’s because of the reimbursement, the reimbursement rate in which many of these doctors are paid back. That is an issue we’re dealing with in the state of Florida, but it also is a supply and demand issue. Maybe people don’t want to live in a rural and urban area … so you avoid those areas.” 

EK: In your opinion, was enough done at the state level for health care in Florida? If not, what more could’ve been done?

SJ: “I’m confident in the deals that were pushed by Democrats to make health care better. I’m sad, however, that a lot of those policies don’t make it across the finish line and just become talking points that we use to go after Republicans on the right.”

This interview was edited for length and clarity.