On Jan. 28, legislation passed out of the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing committee which 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 needed areas and facilities in Minnesota. Expansion of the Loan Forgiveness Program will make it less burdensome for physicians to practice in under-served 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. (S.F. 3)