Two National Programs Get $293 Million to Support Health Care in Underserved Areas

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that $293 million has been allocated to two national programs that seek to increase the number of medical professionals in medically underserved communities.

The funds will go to the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the Nurse Corps for their scholarship and loan-repayment programs, a faculty loan program, and a native Hawaiian health-scholarship program.

“These programs connect primary-care providers with the rural, urban, and tribal communities across the country that need them most,” said Health Resources and Services (HRSA) Administrator George Sigounas, in a statement on Oct. 18.

Over $73.1 million will go to scholarships and the rest, some $219.5 million, will be used for loan-repayment programs.

The announcement comes a day after First Lady Melania Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar kicked off an HHS-initiative to combat the rise in babies born addicted to drugs, particularly opioids, called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

At a meeting of health professionals in Philadephia on Oct. 17, Azar touted a bill that passed Congress on Oct. 3 that would expand resources for infants with NAS and their mothers. He said more needs to be done to understand the syndrome, but he is optimistic that the new bill, called the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, created opportunities for state Medicaid programs to pay for care in residential pediatric counseling centers.

“The whole of HHS will engage on this,” he said. “Understanding the challenges of infants born with NAS is not just a health care issue, but something that also demands examining from a human-services perspective, because of the social and emotional challenges that often accompany substance abuse.”

The announcement of the $293 million seems to be related as it highlights some 3,600 National Health Service Corps members who provide behavioral health care, including medication-assisted treatment, for people with substance abuse disorders.

“For decades, NHSC and Nurse Corps clinicians have been caring for vulnerable patients who might otherwise go without treatment,” said HRSA’s associate administrator for health workforce, Luis Padilla, in a statement. “In the midst of the current opioid crisis, these providers are again rising to the challenge, working in hard-hit communities to provide mental and behavioral health services, including substance-use disorder treatment.”

The HRSA, which oversees both the National Health Service Corps and the Nurse Corps, is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. An HRSA spokesman said the National Health Service Corps and the Nurse Corps programs are funded by Congress; he couldn’t say what percentage of the corps’ budgets the $293 million represents.

The National Health Service Corps was established in 1972 by the Public Health Service Act to pay a percentage of students tuition or repay graduates’ loans, in exchange for working at an approved health care site for a minimum of two years.

According to the National Health Service Corps website, there are almost 11,000 National Health Service Corps clinicians, plus another 1,300 students who will join the corps after their training. That’s up from over 10,000 workers in 2011, according to an HHS press release. In 2011, those clinicians provided care to 10.5 million patients, compared to 11.4 million today. 

Funds Awarded by Program

$142.1 million: National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program for 3,262 new awards and 2,384 continuation awards to fully trained, licensed primary-care clinicians, in exchange for providing primary health care services in an area of greatest need.

$47.1 million: National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program for 222 new awards and seven continuation awards to students pursuing primary-care training, leading to a degree in medicine or dentistry, or a degree as a nurse-midwife, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner in exchange for providing primary health care services in areas of greatest need.

$44.4 million: Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program for 544 new awards and 279 one-year continuation awards to nurses, in exchange for a commitment to serve at a health care facility with a critical shortage of nurses or serve as nurse faculty at an accredited school of nursing.

$25.1 million: Nurse Corps Scholarship Program for 215 new awards and four continuation awards to nursing students, in exchange for a commitment to work at least two years in a facility with critical shortages.

$19.3 million: National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program for 162 new awards. This program provides loan-repayment assistance to medical and dental students in their last year of school, in return for their choosing primary care as a practice focus and working in rural and urban areas of greatest need.

$12.6 million: National Health Service Corps State Loan Repayment Program for cost-sharing grants to 37 states and territories that operate their own loan-repayment programs, funding 1,350 new and continuation awards.

$1.1 million: Faculty Loan Repayment Program for 23 new awards to health professions educators, in exchange for serving as a faculty member in an accredited and eligible health-profession school.

$900,000: Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program for nine new awards and one continuation award to Native Hawaiian health profession students trained in those disciplines and specialties most needed to deliver quality, culturally competent, primary health services to Native Hawaiians in the State of Hawaii.

Continuation awards are for medical professionals who stay for one year beyond their two-year program requirement in a medically undeserved area. 

Holly Kellum
Washington Correspondent
Holly Kellum is a Washington correspondent for NTD. She has worked for NTD on and off since 2012.
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