The importance of the National Health Service Corps
Posted on October 18, 2017 13:26 pm CDT
By Congressman Billy Long
Many rural areas throughout the country often experience a shortage of health professionals, and the result is that many who live in these underserved areas have to travel long distances to find a provider or simply go without care. The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) was created to address these provider shortages to encourage health care professionals, including primary care, dental and mental and behavioral health professionals, to work in underserved areas.
Established in 1972, the NHSC provides federal scholarships, federal loan repayment programs and state-operated loan repayment programs to help pay back student loan debt. Since its inception, over 50,000 health care professionals have participated in this program, and in 2016 alone, 10,400 people participated.
Health care professionals accumulate a great deal of debt while in school, and the NHSC aims to alleviate some of that financial stress and incentivize these individuals to work in underserved areas. The NHSC provides a variety of financial loan repayment options depending on where participants are placed. And for current students studying primary care, the NHSC provides scholarships to help cover the cost of tuition and other school fees. Over a thousand medical students receive scholarships. However, to qualify for this aid, participants serving at NHSC-approved health professional shortage area sites must commit to staying between two and four years.
Missouri has the fifth highest number of NHSC grantees, with over 350 health care professionals participating. As a predominantly rural area, Missouri’s 7th Congressional District has 85 NHSC participants. This has a real impact for our district. Jordan Valley Community Health Center, located throughout the district, has 16 current grantees, and many who started at Jordan Valley through the NHSC have stayed on after finishing their service with the NHSC.
Over the years, participation in the NHSC has only increased, with 2016 having the highest participation rate in the last five years. Behavioral and mental health providers lead the pack in participation rates. The NHSC’s goal is to keep health care professionals in underserved areas even after their contract is up. Over 75 percent of NHSC health care professionals stay in underserved areas, and almost half remain in underserved areas for more than a decade after their commitment is up. That news is both encouraging and proof that the program works.
As a member of the Energy & Commerce Committee, I worked to ensure the extension of the NHSC for an additional two years as the lead co-sponsor of H.R. 3935, the BOOST Primary Care Act, and was pleased to see the Committee advance legislation that includes this extension. I will work hard to ensure the bill’s passage to continue to attract the best and brightest talent to work in rural and underserved areas.