The Biden administration has awarded $1.5 billion in scholarships and student loan repayment assistance for students and healthcare workers, part of an effort to diversify the workforce and ease shortages in underserved communities.
Congress in March passed an funding influx for the National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps and behavioral health workforce programs, which increased scholarships and loan repayment awards by 27% this year, according to the Health and Human Services Department.
“Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we now have a record number of doctors, dentists, nurses and behavioral health providers treating more than 23.6 million patients in underserved communities,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a news release Monday.
In total, the $1.5 billion will support nearly 23,000 providers participating in those three programs, according to the White House.
The programs are funded through the annual appropriations process, but a funding boost under Congress’ COVID-19 relief package passed earlier this year will help reach more students and health workers.
“There is a line out the door of students and residents who want to apply to this program, to not only reduce their debt but to give back to underserved communities,” said Matthew Shick, senior director of government relations and regulatory affairs for the Association of American Medical Colleges. “The increase in funding will not only address those currently in line but attract more applicants.”
In 2020, the NHSC helped 14,000 primary care, dental and mental health providers in health professional shortage areas with student loan repayment or scholarships, according to a Government Accountability Office report released in April.
Still, of the 6,644 people who applied in 2020 for NHSC’s largest program, the general loan repayment program, about 14% were rejected despite working in health professional shortage areas and could have received assistance if more funding were available, according to a Government Accountable Office report this year.
The Biden administration hopes the extra funding will also help diversify the workforce. Only about 7% of physicians identify as Black or Latino. One-quarter of physicians participating in the National Health Service Corps are Black or Latino.
“These professionals will look like America and be better prepared to provide equitable care to America,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at an event Monday. .
The domestic policy package Congress is working on right now would provide another $850 million for the NHSC and Nurse Corps programs.