Biden administration boosts loan forgiveness for primary care doctors, OB-GYNs who practice in rural areas

In a bid to boost the number of doctors serving rural communities, the Department of Health and Human Services has increased by 50% the initial loan repayment amount available to primary care providers who commit to practicing in underserved areas.

Qualifying individuals are eligible for up to $75,000 forgiven in exchange for a two-year service commitment to practice in high-need and rural areas, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced last week.

The amount is available to medical and osteopathic doctors, including OB-GYNs and pediatricians, nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants.

With the growing cost of medical school and increased challenges in recruiting primary care providers to high-need areas, the expanded loan forgiveness will help rural and historically underserved communities attract providers to deliver critical primary care services, HRSA officials said.

HRSA also is offering up to an additional $5,000 in loan repayment to all National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program participants who can demonstrate fluency in Spanish and who commit to practice in a high-need area serving patients with limited English proficiency. Providers will demonstrate language proficiency through an oral exam administered through an accredited language assessment organization. 

Individuals with limited English proficiency disproportionately experience poor health outcomes and often substandard provider experiences, including challenges understanding doctors’ questions and diagnoses and reading and using prescriptions, referrals and follow-up directions, HRSA officials said.

“At the Health Resources and Services Administration, we are committed to taking action to help ensure that everyone has access to primary health care,” said HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson in a statement. “We know the importance of having a culturally competent and consistent source of primary care for improving health and wellness, managing chronic diseases and prescriptions, and coordinating across care teams. Yet, too often in rural communities and historically underserved communities, primary care remains difficult to access. That is why we are increasing our incentives to encourage primary care providers to practice in high need communities by paying a greater share of their educational loans.” 

Through HRSA’s National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program, primary care medical providers could previously receive a maximum of $50,000 in initial loan repayment in return for a two-year full-time service commitment to practice in an area with a shortage of health professionals.

The program is accepting applications until May 9.

This amount is nearly the same as the program offered 30 years ago, yet average medical student debt has grown more than fourfold over that same time period. 

Now, eligible primary care providers can receive up to $75,000 in initial loan repayment. Participants have the opportunity to receive additional funding for extending their service commitment.