Improving Health Care Access

The Minnesota Rural Health Professional Loan Forgiveness Initiative legislation was introduced this week. The bill would expand the state’s Health Professional Loan Forgiveness program in order to improve and expand access to health care for underserved communities in Greater Minnesota.

150108-First-Six-Bills-SF3-Rural-Health-Care-v2Under the legislation, participants who serve four years in rural Minnesota or in other high need areas would have, on average, 60% of their student debt forgiven. Expansion of the program will make it less burdensome for new graduates to practice in under-served areas and improve access to doctors, dentists and other health care professionals in rural Minnesota.

Current participants report the loan forgiveness program has a major effect on their choice of health care practice location. Statistics show that after ten years, 88% of physicians and 93% of physician assistants and nurse practitioners are still in the same or a similar location as their residency; critically, most continue to remain in rural areas after 15 and 20 years. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s existing Health Professional Loan Forgiveness program receives many more applications than it can currently fund.

The program expansion is expected to bring more primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to underserved areas in Minnesota. In addition, the program will recruit registered nurses (for nursing homes) and help bring more dentists and pharmacists to rural Minnesota. For the first time, the state will also support rural communities in hiring mental health professionals, public health nurses and dental therapists.

This legislation will expand participation, help with student loan debt and improve access to health care in rural Minnesota.

This loan forgiveness program was just one of several recommendations put forth by the Legislative Health Care Workforce Commission. The Commission will continue working for the next 18 months. A second working group also contributed to the recommendation for loan forgiveness, the Mental Health Workforce Development Plan (SF1236). This group began meeting in 2013, conducted seven hearings around the state, held a Summit attended by over 150 mental health professionals, and will be presenting their workforce plan to the 2015 legislature in the coming months. (S.F. 3)

Senate DFL