The Florida Senate is poised to pass two bills—which lawmakers are referring to as the Live Healthy package—that aim to supplement the state’s healthcare workforce and inspire innovation among providers.
The Senate Committee on Fiscal Policy passed Senate Bill 7016 and SB 7018 Thursday, setting the bills up for a full Senate vote that could occur as early as next week. SB 7016 sponsor Sen. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland) discussed the bill’s components during the meeting.
“SB 7016 is a robust package of policy initiatives and strategic investments that will help make Florida’s healthcare workforce grow and innovate at the same pace as the rest of our great state,” Burton said. “We’ve heard repeatedly (that) hundreds of thousands of new residents are coming to Florida every year. With all the growth and new residents, it’s important that we do something this year in our session to build upon our great healthcare infrastructure.”
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The bill would supplement Florida’s workforce through a multi-faceted approach, Burton said.
“We grow Florida’s healthcare workforce through opportunities for education, training, and retention,” she said. “We remove registering barriers to increase workforce mobility and expand the availability, efficiency, and quality of healthcare for all Floridians. It includes enhancing partnerships between our hospitals and schools that train healthcare workers, as well as more residency slots and creative loan repayment options that drive providers to underserved areas.”
SB 7016 would create the Training, Education, and Clinicals in Health funding program and enact the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact in the state. It would provide funds to expand medical residency programs, aiming to keep new graduates in Florida.
“We want to make sure our medical school graduates stay in Florida,” Burton said. “We’re going to remove regulations to increase workforce mobility. Live Healthy maintains vigorous training requirements, but removes barriers that can get in the way of quality care for patients. Through Live Healthy, we are expanding sites for clinical training to include more rural, remote, locations (that are) difficult to access.”
The bill would cost approximately $800 million, and would fund rate increases for workers who provide preventive care and serve vulnerable populations. It would also support healthcare career pathway programs at lab schools with university affiliations, increase funding for 700 new residency slots in the Slots for Doctors program, and expand eligibility for the Linking Industry to Nursing Education Fund.
Alan Abromowitz, CEO of the Arc of Florida, voiced his support for SB 7016, specifically its rate increase for providers of services for people with disabilities.
“The Arc did a survey this year, and found that 38 percent of providers were reducing services, and the prognosis did not look good. That’s because these providers are not just managing programs, they’re also managing deficits. This rate increase is going to be huge, and we appreciate it. You’ve got to have providers, or it doesn’t really help to have the ability to do something. This bill will not only help people live healthy, it will help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities live in the community up to their potential.”— Abromowitz
Tyler Sununu, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, also voiced his support for SB 7016.
“This is an amazing bill,” Sununu said. “It will result in not only keeping providers from going out of business, but it will result in expanding choice and capacity in providers around the state.”
SB 7016 would expand the dental student loan repayment program and provide several other dental benefits, which Joe Anne Hart—chief legislative officer for the Florida Dental Association—discussed.
“The language of this bill reflects the intent to increase access to healthcare for all, specifically for dental,” Hart said. “The bill expands the dental student loan repayment program and includes dental hygienists, which is a crucial component of the dental team. It also increases funding for the program to $13 million. That means we’re going to expand [the number of] dentists and dental hygienists that will be able to participate, which will increase access to dental care in these facilities.”
The bill would also provide an additional $35 million for dental services in Florida’s Medicaid program, Hart noted.
“This hasn’t been the case since 2011. Without looking at increasing these rates, it’s going to be difficult to recruit providers. So this is a great opportunity to incentivize folks, especially our recent graduates that are looking to go into public health. We haven’t had a funding increase since 2011. The cost of doing business has extensively increased. And when these dental practices are trying to recruit staff, they have to be competitive.”— Hart
Sen. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) sponsors SB 7018, which would create a revolving-loan fund and a 15-member council to review loan applications and make recommendations to the Florida Department of Health.
“This is one of the most exciting bills I’ve ever presented,” Harrell said. “And it is really going to change healthcare in the state. The goal of the bill is to create a forum for innovators, developers, healthcare policymakers, and stakeholders to harness the creativity and innovation to improve healthcare in Florida. With this bill, we are creating a council that is going to be the centerpiece of this innovation and creativity. The goal of it is to harness the use of technology to improve and build our workforce, as well as improve delivery of the healthcare system.”
Harrell envisions the council consisting of a core group of people that will hold forums across the state, consisting of healthcare agency, workforce, private sector, technology, and finance leaders.
“They are going to create a whole marketplace where we bring these ideas together,” she said. “They’re going to issue best practices across the state, and give awards each year recognizing what is happening in healthcare. I call it the Golden Stethoscope Award (instead of a Golden Globe Award).”
SB 7018 would create a loan fund that would contribute $75 million over the next 10 years.
“Innovators will be able to borrow up to 50 percent of the [total cost] of the project they are doing, and 80 percent if they are going to serve low-income areas or the Medicaid population,” Harrell said. “The interest on loans would be less than one percent. As loans are repaid, the money will be reinvested.”