Duval County’s delegation to the state Legislature elected new leadership Wednesday. Republican Rep. Jay Fant will now serve as the delegation’s chair.
The chairman’s gavel is trading hands and political parties, both with very different approaches to reforming the Sunshine State’s health care system. Duval Republicans are enthusiastic about new conservative leadership in the federal Health and Human Services agency, while Democrats like Rep. Mia Jones are anxious over what that might mean for President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
But before initiating the leadership vote, the term-limited representative and outgoing delegation chair, Jones, reminded members regardless of political affiliation, they’re on the same team. She said although she opposes him ideologically, she’s confident her Republican successor will keep Jacksonville in mind while in Tallahassee.
“Being able to serve as chair in your final year gives you an opportunity to kind of see those things that are important to our community and to know what you really need to get engaged in,” she said. “So, being able to do that has been really rewarding for me, being able to pass it off to Jay, who I’ve worked with for a number of years and to be able to know that he will do whatever is necessary for Jacksonville.”
Jones said she’s also hopeful knowing her former colleague, Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, will serve as vice chair in her absence from public office.
Jones is no stranger to working with colleagues across the aisle, especially on health care. That includes partnering with Bean on telemedicine regulations.
Even though she had reservations at the time, Jones defended Senate Republicans’ private alternative to Medicaid expansion in the fiercely conservative House of Representatives, fielding hours of questions in last year’s special session.
And now that she’s a private citizen, she isn’t shying away from the same fight.
“I will be in Tallahassee. I will be engaged in that conversation. I shared with the Speaker, I won't bother you today when I went over for opening session and the organizational meeting, but I will be back,” she said.
Jones said her way into the debate is through her position as CEO of AGAPE Health Centers, which serve 27,000 uninsured and underinsured people in Jacksonville.
She’s also cautiously eying the health care funding landscape with Donald Trump entering the White House. Jones said she doesn't share Senator Bean’s optimism that Florida will be able to cover the cost of health care for patients who can’t pay themselves.
“The federal government pays about a third of our budget and we have to come up with the remainder. And so we have to make sure whatever model they go to, recogniz[es] that if they get rid of the Affordable Care Act, and all of a sudden that additional group of people that had insurance no longer have it, that there is something in place to make sure that they’re still able to receive care,” she said.
Bean recently told WJCT he’s confident Trump will help the state fully fund its Low Income Pool, which reimburses hospitals that care for the poor. He’s served as the Senate Health Policy Committee Chairman for the last four years. He’ll serve on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, where he’ll have a say in any spending projects proposed by his fellow lawmakers.
Meanwhile, Jones said she’s not ruling out running for elected office again in the future.