On the Horizon: Significant Debt Relief for Florida Physicians
By Mary Thomas, FMA Assistance General Counsel  |  Updated June 16, 2022

In a huge victory for Florida physicians with outstanding medical education loans, the FMA was able to secure an annual appropriation of $6 million for the Medical Education Reimbursement and Loan Repayment Program. While the Program was established in 2002, the Florida Legislature has never funded the Program, until now. At this time, the Department of Health is still in the process of implementing the Program, which will require formal rulemaking and the development of a complex technical infrastructure.

The FMA has participated in a series of meetings with the Department and will continue to do so throughout the implementation process to ensure these dollars reach as many eligible physicians as possible. While there are still some questions to be answered, for now we can look to Florida Statute §1009.65, which provides the following framework for the Program:

  • Payment: Eligible physicians will be able to apply for up to $20,000 per year to reimburse medical educational expenses.

  • Eligible Specialties: Florida licensed physicians engaged in the practice of primary care, which is statutorily defined as obstetrics, gynecology, general and family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, and other specialties which may be identified by the Department of Health.

    • For the first year of the Program, the Department is not likely to expand the list of eligible specialties but may do so in subsequent years depending on the inaugural applicant pool.

  • Eligible Practice Locations: All payments are contingent on continued proof of primary care practice in an area defined in Florida Statute §395.602(2)(b), or an underserved area designated by the Department of Health, provided the practitioner accepts Medicaid reimbursement if eligible for such reimbursement. This includes correctional facilities, state hospitals, and other state institutions. Locations with high incidences of infant mortality, high morbidity, or low Medicaid participation by health care professionals may also be designated as underserved.

A physician does not have to be a recent graduate to apply – physician retention and recruitment are both vital components to increasing access to care in Florida’s underserved areas. While the timeline is still fluid and dependent on several moving pieces, the Department intends to have an application portal ready by the end of 2022 and to begin to disburse payments by Spring 2023.

The FMA would like to thank the Department of Health’s Primary Care Office for their stewardship and dedication to making this Program a success. This type of incentive program will alleviate physician shortages in underserved communities, encourage more physicians to practice family and general medicine, and promote team-based medicine in rural communities, which will help safeguard patient safety and quality of care. The FMA will send out more information once the Department has finalized the procedures and guidelines for Program participation.