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    Lawmaker urges penalizing deadbeat doctors

    Florida does not have a law that addresses doctors who default on their student loans. The tab stands at $46-million.

    By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 19, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- More than 550 medical professionals in Florida have defaulted on student loans worth millions of dollars, but the state can't do anything about the problem.

    A New Port Richey lawmaker wants to change that and give the state the ability to suspend the licenses to practice in Florida for those who do not pay back their federal or state loans or scholarships.

    "It's outrageous, especially in this economy when seniors and children are doing without," Rep. Mike Fasano said. "Sometimes, you have to put a little pressure on them."

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which tracks doctors nationwide who don't return borrowed money, is lobbying states to penalize medical professionals.

    Maryland, New York, Georgia and Texas have laws to either suspend or revoke licenses. Other states penalize those who don't pay state loans back, but do not address federal loans.

    Florida, which has almost 45,000 active doctors, does not have a law that addresses doctors who defaulted on any loans, said Bill Parizek, spokesman for the Department of Health. But it does prevent them from being licensed in the first place.

    Fasano, a Republican, sent a letter Tuesday to Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, to consider the bill in the Committee on Health Regulation. Farkas, who is the chairman, said he will discuss the proposal at its next meeting.

    The bill would suspend a doctor's license until the loan has been repaid and may also charge a reinstatement fee. As of last month, 556 medical professionals in Florida owe a total of more than $46-million. Some of them owe more than $500,000.

    "It's criminal," Farkas said. "It's a big amount of money."

    The federal government estimates that almost 9,500 medical professionals owe $693-million as of last month. The list includes doctors, dentists, pharmacists and veterinarians, among others. The complete list can be found on the Internet at www.defaulteddocs.dhhs.gov. Although the loans are federal ones, Fasano said every taxpayer in the nation is footing the bill.

    "If you have taken out a loan, someone is paying for that," he said. "We've all put up some of that $46-million."

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