Lawmakers Consider More Loan Forgiveness For Rural Docs

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February 12, 2015 — TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – The Senate Health and Provider Services committee approved a bill on Wednesday that will boost a loan forgiveness program that aims to put doctors in underserved areas.

The bill now moves to the Senate Appropriations committee for further consideration.

Senate Bill 496, authored by Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, provides a loan forgiveness amount of up to $25,000 each year for primary care doctors that primarily practice in a rural area.

That’s an increase from a current law that gives eligible physicians a maximum of $5,000 per year. Breaux said that “doesn’t make a dent” on the students’ loans.

Breaux said SB 496 is a way to address the need to keep physicians in the state by helping them pay off their large student debts. She said the average debt of a primary care physician coming out of medical school is about $180,000 and extends to as much as $300,000 for some.

Breaux said the bill also creates a fund for the program, something the state currently doesn’t have. That’s why the bill was recommitted to the Appropriations Committee where lawmakers will look at ways to pay for the program.

Peter Nalin, executive associate dean of Indiana University School of Medicine, said SB 496 could not only attract physicians to practice in rural areas while paying off their debt, but they would likely stay there permanently. He said the vast majority of primary healthcare physicians remain where they first start practicing.

Richard Feldman, a family medicine physician at St. Francis Health and former state health commissioner, said the bill addresses a serious issue in the state as well as the country.

“There is a looming crisis. There is a critical lack of family medicine and primary care providers,” Feldman said.

Feldman said the country will be down 130,000 physicians by 2025 – and 66,000 of those are primary care providers. Indiana alone will be down 2,000 doctors.

Feldman said loan forgiveness of $25,000 per year begins to address the issue and is a good starting point to attracting and keeping physicians in the state.

SB 496 passed unanimously.


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