State Senate panel approves Frockt’s bill to reduce debt of health care graduates in exchange for work in underserved areas

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sen. David Frockt, D-46
A State Senate committee has approved a bill sponsored by Sen. David Frockt that would reduce student debt of physicians and other health-care professionals in exchange for work in rural and other underserved areas.

The Senate Higher-Education Committee passed Frockt’s bill Friday to allow repayment of school loans for health professionals who work in rural and underserved areas.

“There are areas across Washington with critical shortages of health-care professionals including primary-care physicians and dentists,” Frockt said. “Meanwhile, many doctors, dentists and nurses complete their medical education with massive amounts of debt. The goal here is to provide incentives to reduce that debt in exchange for working in under-served areas.”

Recent data shows that 93 percent of the University of Washington Medical School’s 2009 graduating class left with some level of debt, with 72 percent accruing debt of $100,000 or more, a figure that doesn’t include the cost of undergraduate studies.

The bill would reinvigorate a program to repay the loans of health professionals that has been dramatically underfunded. State budget troubles have reduced support for the Health Loan Repayment Program to a point where few awards are being granted. This bill would allow the Student Achievement Council, which administers the program, to contract with foundations or private sources. This helps revitalize public-private partnerships.

The bill also would clarify what groups are eligible. Doctors, dentists, nurses and other health professionals are already eligible for loan repayment. Frockt’s proposal would add medical residents choosing to work in underserved areas.

“As we move to expand Medicaid in Washington State, concerns have been raised about whether we’ll have enough health professionals to provide medical care for the 330,000 Washingtonians who will receive federally funded health insurance under the expansion,” Frockt said. “This program provides a way to leverage foundation and private funding sources to produce more health professionals working in underserved communities.”

The bill will move onto the Rules committee and if approved there, a vote on the Senate floor.

Frockt represents the 46th Legislative District, which includes Lake Forest Park, Kenmore and northeast Seattle.


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