Over the past year, the rise of COVID-19 has revealed the important role lawmakers play in keeping citizens healthy and safe. Carlos has always taken this role very seriously, which is why it was no surprise he became one of the most vocal proponents of public safety measures when COVID first began to spread. But Carlos understands the government’s commitment to keeping citizens healthy cannot start and end with one disease. Floridians face many more threats every day – from HIV to outrageous medical bills – that our leaders should be doing everything in their power to fight.
The affects COVID-19 have had on Florida are heartbreaking. Thousands have lost their jobs and struggled to receive unemployment benefits, small businesses have faced falling profits with little relief from the government, and we’ve all had to sacrifice our normal ways of life. But worst of all, over 12,000 of our fellow Floridians have died. Carlos finds this unacceptable, which is why he has been a vocal proponent for public safety measures designed to stop COVID’s spread. These measures have included increased transparency in state reporting, mask mandates, mandatory sick leave, and business/beach closings. Beating COVID is an effort that requires everyone to buy in, and Carlos has led the charge of encouraging just that from the government and everyday people alike.
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Unfortunately, COVID isn’t the only disease Floridians need to worry about. The state has been plagued by one of the worst HIV epidemics in the US as well. Throughout his time in office, Carlos has also shown himself to be one of the most passionate advocates for HIV prevention and care. In 2017, Carlos proposed a bill which would have prohibited the increase of copayments and deductibles if the policyholder were diagnosed with HIV. Such a ban would have helped the thousands of Floridians struggling with HIV afford care and stop the disease’s progression. In 2018, Carlos co-sponsored the HIV Prevention Justice Act which would have made the sexual transmission of HIV without first warning one’s partner a crime.
Carlos also co-sponsored a bill in 2019 that allowed county commissions to operate needle exchange programs. These programs allow drug users to exchange their dirty needles for clean ones, eliminating the need to share them and spread HIV.
But Carlos’ HIV advocacy goes beyond the Florida House chambers. For instance, Carlos has been a leading advocate for comprehensive sex education. It is vital for children to learn the dangers of STD transmission and the importance of practicing safe sex to keep them from spreading diseases such as HIV later on. But limited sex education, like those in Florida that stress abstinence, can leave kids under-prepared. Carlos hopes that his advocacy can help encourage schools to adopt smarter methods.
Carlos has also been a very vocal promoter of HIV prevention medications such as PrEp. For those at risk of contracting HIV, PrEp can reduce the risk of transmission by over 70%. Carlos often uses his platform to increase awareness of PrEp and even negotiated with Publix to get PrEp covered on its employees’ health insurance plans. It was this success that helped earn him the 2018 Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation Legislative Leadership Award.
In October of 2015, Carlos started the “Minimum Wage Challenge.” The challenge was simple: survive off of $85/week just like every other Floridian living on minimum wage. Carlos lasted four days. And this wasn’t because he had a weak resolve; he didn’t cave and go to Starbucks. Instead, he was faced with the choice thousands of low-payed Floridians are faced with every day: afford healthcare or put food on the table. Carlos suffers from Acquired Hypothyroidism, meaning he needs expensive medication every week in order to produce crucial hormones; medication that people living on minimum wage just can’t afford. Carlos believes healthcare is a human right, that no person should have to suffer because they can’t afford expensive coverage or medication. This experience showed him just how out of reach that right is for many people, especially in a state like Florida that has one of the highest rates of uninsured adults in the US.
Carlos’ most ambitious attempt in this effort was co-sponsoring the Healthy Florida Program. Under this plan, every Floridians’ essential healthcare costs would be completely taken care of by the program. And notice that key word: every. This system would accomplish universal coverage and guarantee healthcare as a human right here in Florida. It would also save most families money, lower drug costs, help small businesses compete, improve every citizen’s care, and more.
But Florida doesn’t need to create its own health coverage program to start covering more citizens today. In fact, it doesn’t even need to spend its own money. In 2010, the passage of the Affordable Care Act extended to states the option of using federal funds to expand their Medicaid programs. Florida has since resisted on partisan grounds, despite the ability to extend coverage to over 800,000 more of their citizens at no cost. Carlos found this decision reprehensible and has since become a leading voice demanding Medicaid expansion in Florida. He even joined his fellow democratic lawmakers to demand a special session to pass the Medicaid expansion during the height of COVID-19.
Remembering his difficulty completing the Minimum Wage Challenge, Carlos has also emerged as an outspoken leader in the effort to control skyrocketing drug costs. He often advocates for low prices set by the state, as is done in other developed nations. This issue became particularly relevant in March 2019 when Republican lawmakers unveiled their new plan for lowering drug costs: importing Canadian drugs. Carlos was quick to remind them why Canadian drugs are cheaper:
He has also co-sponsored many bills in the legislature to reduce costs further and aid particularly vulnerable Floridians. For example, Carlos co-sponsored a bill which would have prohibited insurance practices that increase the costs of prescription drugs such as spread pricing, rebating, and more; another bill attempted to cap the costs of insulin.
It’s not only adults that struggle to get the care they need in Florida’s healthcare system. Children too face many medical difficulties for which the state offers little help. This can present even larger issues as quality healthcare is essential for children’s healthy development. Carlos believes no kid deserves to be left behind, and that’s why he has co-sponsored and supported many bills in the House to make sure kids get proper care that sets them up for a healthy future.
The first of these was an appropriation Carlos co-sponsored in 2017 to fund the Department of Health’s Auditory-Oral Early Intervention Program For Children With Hearing Loss. Similarly, in 2019 Carlos co-sponsored a bill to require insurance companies to cover children’s hearing aids.
Carlos has also co-sponsored legislation aimed at protecting newborns. One such bill would have required insurance policies to cover eye tests after birth while another would have established a Maternal Mortality Taskforce to find solutions for situations involving complications during birth.
Another set of bills would have protected children’s health in schools. These bills would have required students be vaccinated for HPV, school administrators use de-escalation strategies when dealing with mentally ill students, and Florida Universities equip their campuses with EpiPens.
Carlos is also has been a fierce defender of transgender children’s medical rights. Last session, a bill was proposed to make it a felony for a doctor to prescribe hormone therapy or perform gender reassignment surgery on children. Carlos immediately attacked it and helped lead the charge to kill the bill.
Carlos understands that the state isn’t the only institution that is working to keep Floridians healthy. Hundreds of community programs across Florida are doing amazing work, and Carlos has fought hard to help fund these valuable organizations. Examples of these community programs include the PTSD rehabilitation clinic "UCF Restores" and "Two Spirit Health Services" – an organization dedicated to providing health service to those affected by the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Moving forward you can be sure Carlos will continue to find and support programs improving the health of our communities.