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.
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.
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_ASH announces $319 million in awards for #NHSC field strength! Watch to see @HRSAgov @NHSCorps commitment to meeting America’s #primarycare needs and combatting #opioids and #substanceusedisorders. Learn more: https://t.co/eEBxnaOQF7 pic.twitter.com/BcBjHoN1zq— NHSC (@NHSCorps) October 23, 2019
HHS made awards to the following programs:
- National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program ($156.7 million) provides 4,012 new and 2,385 continuation awards to fully trained, licensed primary care clinicians in exchange for providing primary health care services in an area of greatest need.
- National Health Service Corps Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program ($66.0 million) provides 1,074 new awards to recruit and retain health professionals in underserved areas to expand access to substance use disorder treatment and prevent overdose deaths.
- National Health Service Corps Rural Community Loan Repayment Program ($14.1 million) provides 174 new awards to healthcare providers working to combat the opioid epidemic in rural communities.
- National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program ($47.6 million) provides 200 new and 11 continuation awards to students pursuing primary care training leading to a degree in medicine or dentistry or a degree as a nurse-midwife, physician assistant or nurse practitioner in exchange for providing primary health care services in areas of greatest need.
- National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program ($15.2 million) provides 127 new awards. This program provides loan repayment assistance to medical and dental students in their last year of school in return for their choosing primary care as a practice focus and working in rural and urban areas of greatest need.
- National Health Service Corps State Loan Repayment Program ($19 million) provides cost-sharing grants to 41 states and two territories that operate their own loan repayment programs, funding 1,957 new and continuation awards.