Late Breaking News
Stimulus Package to Support Primary Care, Dental, and Mental Health Clinicians at NHSC Sites
- Categorized in: July 2009 Issue
WASHINGTON—HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the availability of nearly $200 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support student loan repayments for primary care medical, dental, and mental health clinicians who want to work at National Health Service Corps (NHSC) sites.
In exchange for the loan repayments, clinicians serve for 2 years with the Corps in an underserved area. The new funds are expected to double the number of Corps clinicians and make 3,300 awards to clinicians that serve in health centers, rural health clinics, and other health care facilities that care for uninsured and underserved people.
The funds were part of the stimulus package signed into law earlier this year. That legislation provided $300 million to the NHSC to increase the number of clinicians serving in areas where health care services are scarce. The remaining funding for NHSC is expected to be released in the near future, according to an HHS spokesperson. In addition, another $200 million from the stimulus package is expected to be released to expand other Health Resources and Services Administration’s health professions programs.
Expanding the Primary Care Work Force
The NHSC Loan Repayment Program offers fully trained primary care physicians (MDs or DOs), family nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, physician assistants, dentists, dental hygienists, and certain mental health clinicians $50,000 to repay student loans in exchange for 2 years serving in a community-based site in a high-need Health Professional Shortage Area. The NHSC scholarship pays tuition and fees, and provides a living stipend to students enrolled in medical (MD or DO), dental, nurse practitioner, certified nurse midwife, and physician assistant training. Scholarship recipients serve between 2 and 4 years in a community-based site in a high-need Health Professional Shortage Area.
Proponents for increasing NHSC funding have said that the funding is needed to increase the primary care work force in the US. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT, a supporter of increased NHSC funding, remarked at a hearing in April that one of the “absurdities” about the current health care shortage is that the US must recruit medical professionals from countries that need their own medical workforce. “We are depleting struggling third world systems and taking their professionals into our country because we are not producing the doctors, the dentists, and nurses that we need,” he said.
Community Health Centers Receive Stimulus Funding
The stimulus package also doubles the amount of federal money for community health centers from $2.1 billion to $4 billion. Community health centers provide primary care services to Medicaid patients, the uninsured, or people who have difficulty accessing health care. A recent GAO report found that many areas around the country still lack a community health center. The GAO report found that in 2007, 60% of medically underserved areas in the Midwest, 40% in the South, 37% in the Northeast, and 31% of medically underserved areas in the West, did not have any health centers.
Health centers provide big savings to the health care system, according to Dan Hawkins, the senior vice president of the National Association of Community Health Centers. He noted at a congressional hearing that they occupy the “entry point where good quality preventive primary health care not only improves and maintains health, but it can reduce their need for greater care for illnesses and save the system billions.” “Health centers saved the entire health care system $18 billion dollars a year,” he said.
Hawkins said that if every person in America received the care that health centers provided, more than $500 billion dollars a year could be saved in the health care setting today.