MAYO — Since being elected last June, State Representative Jason Shoaf stepped outside his comfort zone and took a crash course on health care issues.

Shoaf, a Republican from Port St. Joe representing District 7, which includes Lafayette County, is assigned to the health qualify committee in the Florida House, hence his dive into health care topics.

“Issues pertaining to health insurance or different things in the health sector, I wasn’t very familiar with, but because I was given that duty, I’ve taken the time, when I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, to learn a new field,” Shoaf said as the legislative session begins Tuesday in Tallahassee. “Of course, I’ve got a long way to go to really learn it well.

“It put me outside my comfort zone a little bit so that I could dive into health care issues as well.”

After getting better acquainted with the ever-rising costs associated with health care, Shoaf has sponsored a bill that he hopes can help reverse that trend. The bill would require physicians to divest any financial interests they may have in facilities that they are referring patients.

“My goal is to stop kickbacks and stop doctors from referring patients to places where they earn a profit instead of referring them to where they need to go based on their needs not on how much they get back on the back end from the hospital,” Shoaf said.

“I’m pretty excited about that bill. It’s an uphill battle. There’s a lot of interests against that. But getting something like that passed will be a small step to lowering insurance premiums, hopefully.”

Shoaf said he also is excited to get to work on providing more vocational training opportunities throughout his North Florida district as well as tackle water quality in the state, two topics that Shoaf is passionate about and campaigned on during last year’s special election.

He has sponsored a $600,000 appropriations bill to try and help provide improvements and upgrades to the Town of Mayo’s wastewater treatment plant.

“There is a huge issue with sewage and it’s not just in North Florida, it’s throughout the entire state,” Shoaf said. “The nitrates in our drinking water, in our bays, in our rivers. It’s a problem we have to tackle and we can’t avoid it. It’s going to take a serious effort, a bi-partisan effort, in order to get the kind of change that we need brought about.”

Shoaf also would like to see change brought forward to help improve education throughout the state. He is in favor of helping boost teacher pay, which Gov. Ron DeSantis has requested an increase in the base pay for new teachers in his proposed budget as well as in several bills sponsored by various members of the Florida House.

Shoaf said he also would like to see the Best and Brightest Program either replaced or revamped to better reward educators.

“It’s one that is overdue,” he said. “It’s time to make the teachers’ salaries competitive with other states. We need to lead the way.

“People want to live in Florida anyway, but it’s time to make it where teachers can earn enough to buy a home and afford to live in Florida.”

Jamie Wachter is the editor of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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