LAKELAND, Fla. (WFTS) — Nearly 1,000 health care workers have lost their license to practice in Florida because they can’t repay their student loans – a new crackdown potentially putting hundreds out of work, the I-Team found.
The move to suspend health care licenses comes after federal student loan companies spent years lobbying states to adopt laws to punish those who default on student loans by taking away their professional licenses.
But an ABC Action News review found Florida is the only state enforcing those laws.
Investigative Reporter Adam Walser uncovered the state’s Board of Health suspended more than 900 health care licenses – including professional certifications for registered nurses, Certified Nursing Assistants, pharmacists and opticians – in the just the past two years alone.
The I-Team found 12 other states (Alaska, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas) still have the power to take away health care licenses for unpaid student loans, but officials in those states told ABC Action News they have not suspended any licenses over loan defaults in the past two years.
And four states – Montana, Oklahoma, New Jersey and North Dakota – have already repealed laws allowing health care license suspensions for unpaid student loans.
Tampa student loan attorney Christie Arkovich says Florida’s law goes too far.
“We’re not saying that people shouldn’t repay their loan,” said Arkovich. “We’re just saying that getting them fired probably isn’t the best way to go about that.”
Dr. Gabriel Picone, an economics professor at University of South Florida, said the decision to suspend licenses for nonpayment of student loans puts a strain on both employers and patients because health care workers are in short supply and it means those who lose their licenses will likely go from earning paychecks to depending on taxpayer-funded welfare.
“It’s trying to take too much away,” Picone said. “This person may end up on Medicaid, receive food stamps. All this is more money that we will have to pay.”
The state can garnish up to 100 percent of wages before a health care worker’s license can be reinstated, according to Arkovich. And under Florida law, once the state suspends a license for student loan default, the only way to get it back is to pay a fine equal to 10 percent of the balance, plus state investigation costs.