HHS announces $319M in loan repayments for docs, providers caring for underserved

The government just sweetened the pot for doctors and other health professionals who provide care in underserved communities with an infusion of $319 million for loan repayment and scholarship programs.

In what was good news for doctors already saddled with medical school debt, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Wednesday it is providing the additional money in scholarship and loan repayment awards for clinicians and students through the National Health Service Corps (NHSC).

NHSC, a program administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) provides scholarships and student loan repayment to healthcare clinicians in return for their service in communities in need.

The money will support health workforce providers caring for the underserved. With additional providers able to enter NHSC service, there are now more than 13,000 medical, dental and behavioral health clinicians providing care to more than 13.7 million Americans in rural, urban and tribal communities, HHS said. There are also more than 1,480 students and medical residents preparing to serve in the NHSC.

RELATED: A new deal—$75K in loan repayment to doctors in exchange for opioid treatment in underserved areas

The funds will help build the healthcare workforce in rural areas and help combat the country’s opioid epidemic.

“These loan repayment awards and scholarships make it possible for dedicated clinicians to care for the patients who need them most, including Americans with opioid use disorder and other substance abuse challenges,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

The funds include $80 million that will support almost 1,250 clinicians providing substance use disorder treatment in underserved communities, including at more than 2,000 rural sites. These providers commit to three-year loan repayment contracts, ensuring sustained impact and continuity of care for these communities.

“These awards not only get more NHSC providers into the communities that need them the most, but also help to keep those physicians working there long term,” said HRSA acting Administrator Tom Engels.

RELATED: Rural health crisis escalates: Sometimes there’s only 1 doctor in town (if you’re lucky)

The NHSC is a component of the federal government’s healthcare safety net programs. More than 60% of NHSC participants work in federally funded community health centers.

HHS made awards to the following programs: