Legislative Health Care Workforce Commission Recommendations

In December, the Legislative Health Care Workforce Commission released its recommendations for strengthening Minnesota’s health care workforce. One of the recommendations was to expand participation in the current Health Professional Loan Forgiveness program. The Commission also heard testimony from higher education institutions and training sites stating that the lack of available clinical training sites/residency slots was their greatest challenge to fulfilling the needs of the workforce. Two bills were introduced this session to address some of the recommendations made by the Commission.

S.F. 3 would expand the state’s Health Professional Loan Forgiveness program for participants who serve up to four years in high-need areas. In exchange for practicing in high-need areas, these medical professionals could have, on average, 60% of their college debt forgiven.

The purpose of the Health Professional Loan Forgiveness Program is to recruit and retain quality health care professionals to underserved areas and facilities in Minnesota. Expansion of the Loan Forgiveness Program will make it less burdensome for physicians to practice in these areas, providing much-needed health care access to rural Minnesota.

Rural and under-served areas of Minnesota present unique challenges for health care access. There is an ever-increasing shortage of medical personnel in rural areas, and transportation and distance barriers contribute to an increasing economic destabilization of rural healthcare services. As a result, many doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel have favored urban and suburban practices over rural areas. According to the most recent data from the Department of Health’s Office of Rural Health and Primary Care, there are 16 counties where there are fewer than six practicing physicians per 10,000 residents. Additionally, there are another 16 counties that have fewer than nine physicians practicing per 10,000 residents.

This legislation will improve health care across the state by encouraging medical professionals to practice in rural Minnesota or in other high-need areas. Current participants report the loan forgiveness program has a major effect on their choice of practice location, and studies show that the vast majority of health care professionals remain in the same or similar locations as where they start their careers.

The second piece of legislation would appropriate $8.4 million to strengthen and increase Minnesota’s health care workforce. The bill would establish a grant program to expand primary care residency training sites, as well as a grant program to expand clinical training of advanced practice registered nurses, physician assistants, and mental health professionals. In addition, the bill would provide an incentive payment for health professions student preceptors and medical resident preceptors.

The Primary Care and Mental Health Professions Clinical Training Expansion grant program would provide funding for clinical training sites for physician assistant, APRN, and mental health professionals; the Primary Care Residency Expansion grant would provide funds to Minnesota institutions that train medical students so the availability of residency slots would be increased.

Many preceptors find it difficult to give up their time for instructing when the time can disrupt their practice’s generation of revenue. To address this issue, the bill creates a preceptor grant program which would provide financial incentives similar to other states, where preceptors receive grant money for their work.

STATUS: S.F. 3 was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill; S.F. 1246 is in the Finance Committee. (S.F. 1246/S.F. 3)

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