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New Health Insurance Law Pushing Med Students into Rural, Inner City America

Ernie Shannon's picture

Small town America is memorialized in Norman Rockwell paintings and in the hearts and minds of people yearning for a simpler life, but in 2012 reality doesn’t always fit those dreamy memories. Life can be hard in rural communities suffering through a deep recession showing few signs of letting up. Young people leave seeking education and employment and, perhaps most worrisome for the older generations left behind, doctors flee when their workload simply becomes too heavy. And they are rarely replaced.

The health care crisis in America’s countryside has been brewing for several decades and more than one administration has tacked the challenge of convincing practitioners to move to villages and burgs where few physicians are willing to go. The Obama administration is just the latest determined to bring health care to these rural settlements and it is using the Affordable Care Act as the mechanism to make it happen.

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Earlier today, the Health and Human Services Administration announced that the program called the National Health Service Corps has awarded $9.1 million in funding to medical students in 30 states and the District of Columbia. The idea behind the initiative is to encourage fourth-year medical students to commit to work in what the agency calls underserved communities, mostly found in rural American, in return for receiving $120,000 in loan repayment assistance. The catch is that the recently graduated doctors must work full-time in a selected community for three years or part-time for six years as primary care physicians.

The Health Resources and Services Administration oversees the program and uses money from the Affordable Care Act to fund the program. Program administrators claim that thousands of students have joined the effort already and many more are slated to join. The new primary care providers will serve in more than 14,000 health care sites in urban, rural, and frontier areas.

According to administration figures used during the debate over health care reform, it is estimated the nation will see a shortage of 46,000 primary care physicians by 2025 and as many as 21,000 by 2015. Sources for those numbers also suggest that incentives “embedded in medical education and future earnings, along with the growing appeal of specialization, are more at fault for this crisis than anything else.”

Established in 1972, the Health Resources and Services Administration provides financial, professional, and educational resources to medical, dental, and mental and behavioral health care providers who bring their skills to areas of the United States with limited access to health care.