Bill aims to fix glitch in healthcare fraud law

Jan 16, 2012


There’s a Florida law that’s setup to clamp down on health care fraud. But, it’s causing one woman to put her dream to be a nurse on hold. As Sascha Cordner reports, one lawmaker has filed a new bill that if passed, could give the woman a second chance at her dream.

It began as a comprehensive law to fight health care fraud. But, Democratic Senator Arthenia Joyner of Tampa says that legislation passed two years ago has unintended consequences. That’s why she filed a bill to help those who want to become licensed health care professionals, but have a felony record.

“There are persons who are already enrolled in educational programs awaiting licensure. They found out that they would be ineligible for a licensure or renewal. So, this bill would cure that and allow those  who were in the process in completing their education or had an application for licensure to work as a health care professional, that they would be able to continue their pursuit, that they would get a job.”

Groups, like the Florida Health Care Association and the Florida Nursing Association, are in support of Joyner’s bill. FNA lobbyist Alisa Snow says it’s legislation that will correct past wrongs:

“Current law creates a barrier for nurses entering the workforce if they have a felony record. So, this bill will alleviate some of that situation by reducing some of the licensure band form 15 years to 5 years for lesser offenses.”

The 2009 law had a provision that 15 years had to go by before a felon could apply for a medical license.

That’s the situation of 30-year-old Cherylynn Juchniewicz. She’s now in her final semester of nursing at Polk State College, but it will be years before she can get her license because of a poor decision she made seven years ago.

“I was working in a clothing store and made false returns on a credit card for approximately 395 dollars. Needless to say, I was caught and was charged with a third degree felony for scheming to defraud. At 23, I was scared to death, and so I took a plea deal.”

Her life did turn around, though, as she got engaged, became a mother, and graduated from Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville with an AA in Nursing. But, the issue of whether she could become a nurse with her background was never far from her mind. It was when she applied to the Polk State College Nursing program that she heard of the comprehensive 2009 measure, Senate Bill 1986.

“I worked with one of our nursing professors to seek out new information on SB 1986, hoping that there would be an amendment that would allow me to be licensed in the only state I’ve ever called home.”

Juchniewicz says she hopes to graduate this May. And, that’s why she says she’s grateful for Joyner’s bill that would help her to apply for a license a few months after graduation, instead of years.

Part of Senator Joyner’s change bill also includes a tier system. For example, those with a third degree felony theft record either have to wait 10 years or 5 years based on the amount of money they stole. But, Juchniewicz says she hopes Joyner will consider an even lesser waiting period and not base it on a tier system:

"The proposed amendment still limits all third degree felonies to waiting ten years after the resolution of charges. It doesn’t have any stipulation on the amount of the charges, and all charges with monetary value from 300 to 20-thousand dollars are proposed to wait the ten years. Please consider lesser wait periods for health care licensing regarding third degree felonies based upon monetary denomination.”

Juchniewicz says she realizes she made a mistake at 23 and she’s spending every day of her life making up for it.

At a Senate Criminal Justice Committee meeting during the first week of session, she begged members to consider her situation and others who could benefit from Joyner’s bill.

“My fingers are crossed that graduation comes with high hopes and good places, instead of fears on where I will go.  I would love to give back to the community and work with the family that has wholeheartedly embraced me by working as a nurse locally in Florida. I’ve never lived out of state and do not even know where I would begin to look for licensure, a profession in nursing, and a place to call my home. My fiancée's finally found a dependable job and our entire families live in this state and can help me raise my son.”

Senator Greg Evers, who chairs that Senate committee, says he was touched by her words and understands that many young adults don’t get a do-over when their mistakes affect the rest of their lives:

“I’m just thankful that there is an opening even if it’s 4 and a half years away because I know of some folks that went through training and went to get certified for different occupations where they found out that even if they passed the test, they would never be able to hold that job, and that’s sad!”

In a unanimous vote, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee agreed to move the bill forward to its last stop, the Senate Budget Committee. And, Joyner, who was not present at the committee, says she will look into the proposed changes to her bill that Juchniewicz suggested about loosening the restrictions even more.