May 20, 2020
Area(s) of Interest: Physician Workforce
A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that would clarify the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program that inadvertently excluded many California and Texas physicians from education loan forgiveness because of state laws.
The bill—known as the “Stopping Doctor Shortages Act”—was introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Kamala Harris (D-CA). This important legislation will address physician shortages in California and Texas and improve access to care, particularly in children’s hospitals and community hospitals in underserved communities. It is the Senate companion bill to HR 4607 introduced in the U.S. House by Representatives Josh Harder (D-CA), Paul Cook (R-CA), Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Dan Crenshaw (R-TX).
HR 4607 passed out of the House Education and Labor Committee in November as part of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act and most recently was included in the latest COVID-19 legislation—HR 6800, “The Heroes Act”—that passed the House on May 15, 2020. The California Medical Association (CMA) is working to have it included in the next Senate COVID-19 relief bill.
Under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, individuals can have their education loans forgiven after making 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full-time in a non-profit facility. The program was intended to encourage careers serving the public good and to improve access to physicians.
When the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program was implemented, it inadvertently precluded California and Texas physicians from participating because their state laws prohibit most hospitals from directly employing doctors.
The Stopping Doctor Shortages Act clarifies that physicians in states that prohibit hospitals from directly employing physicians are still eligible for loan forgiveness. This will ensure that California and Texas physicians working in non-profit community hospitals can obtain the same loan forgiveness afforded to physicians in the other 48 states.
California and Texas are both experiencing physician shortages. We need physicians more than ever to meet the health care needs of patients now, during and after the COVID-19 surge. This legislation will help doctors continue to serve where they are needed the most.