Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Louis Greenwald, Craig Coughlin, Vincent Prieto and Celeste Riley creating a loan redemption program to help relieve the worsening physician shortage in New Jersey was approved by an Assembly panel on Thursday.
“Loan forgiveness is one of the top factors that medical residents look for in determining a practice,” said Majority Leader Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). “With the physician shortage worsening in our state, it’s critical that we take a proactive approach now to ensure that New Jersey residents have access to an abundance of top-notch care.”
The bill (A-4507) would establish a Physician Loan Redemption Program based on a recommendation in a report recently issued by the New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals to target underserved areas of the state with the most significant shortages and provide loan redemption incentives.
“This bill is based on a comprehensive report that identified the barriers that impede our state from addressing physician shortages, one of them being the lack of a loan redemption program to compete with other states,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “If we can strategically target the specialties experiencing shortages, then we can use this program to address the pressing health needs of our state.”
The bill would augment the existing loan redemption program for dentists, nurses and various other health practitioners and utilize half of the existing $1.5 million appropriation for redemption of qualifying loan expenses for physicians who serve at least four-years at an approved site of a clinical practice of primary care or specialized care.
“With more and more people slated to become insured under the new federal health care law, that means the demand for doctors will only increase even more,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “It’s crucial that we act now to avoid any catastrophic impact on our health care system, particularly in underserved areas.”
Program participants must agree to practice at an approved site in an underserved area, which is defined as any area where more than 20 percent of the population is below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. In return for this commitment, the participant’s eligible qualifying loan expenses will be reimbursed as follows:
- first year of full-time service, 18% of principal and interest;
- second year of full-time service, 26% of principal and interest;
- third year of full-time service, 28% of principal and interest; and
- fourth year of full-time service, 28% of principal and interest.
The state Health Department would also be charged with developing and updating criteria annually to define any additional medically-underserved areas of the state where physicians may serve and qualify for loan redemption.
“New Jersey is facing significant future shortages in both primary care and a number of specialty areas particularly because we have a higher than average number of physicians nearing retirement age,” said Riley. “Couple this with the fact that we have a low physician retention rate post graduation and the need to find ways to keep good doctors in our state becomes even more pressing.”
Program participants must also be state residents, must have graduated from a medical school approved by the State Board of Medical Examiners, and have completed an accredited residency training program.
The measure was approved 7-0 by the Assembly Higher Education Committee.