By Ralph Ellis
The Biden administration says it will spend $1.5 billion on scholarship and loan repayment programs to place more health care workers in underserved communities and diversify the health care workforce.
The money will come through the American Rescue Plan and be administered through the National Health Service Corps and the Nurses Corps. The aim is to put 22,700 doctors, dentists, nurses, and behavioral health providers in areas that don’t have enough health care services, according to a news release from the White House.
“Our nation must invest in a health care workforce that looks like America and provide access to equitable health care for all Americans,” Vice President Kamala Harris said Monday in announcing the program, according to The Washington Post. “There is more work to be done, but I believe we are headed in the right direction.”
The programs will give scholarships and offer loan repayments to students and health care professionals who commit to working for several years in “hard-hit and high-risk communities,” the release said.
Another goal is diversifying the healthcare workforce.
About 7% of U.S. physicians identify as Black or Hispanic/Latino, though those groups account for 31% of the U.S. population, the news release said. Only 25% of physicians in the National Health Service identify as Black or Hispanic/Latino.
The National Health Service was founded in 1972 to address the declining number of primary care doctors. The agency says it has about 20,000 members providing service to 21 million people
The $1.5 billion is intended to fill an anticipated shortage of almost 60,000 primary care doctors, dentists, and psychiatrists over the next decade, the release said. There’s a serious shortage of nurses, too, with the U.S. needing about 158,000 new nurses to graduate yearly through the decade.
But many prospective health care professionals are discouraged by the high cost of graduate health care education, which can average more than $200,000 per student, the release said.
The program is one of the recommendations to come from the White House’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, which looked at systemic inequality in the health care system.