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New education loan repayment program encourages health professionals to work in underserved areas

As health care coverage becomes more available to Oregonians in 2014, the state is also working to expand access to providers. One key strategy is a new education loan repayment program designed to attract primary care health professionals to work in underserved areas. To that end, the Oregon Health Authority, through the Office of Rural Health at Oregon Health & Science University, has launched the Medicaid Primary Care Loan Repayment Program to increase the number of health care providers in the state and provide greater access for Oregon Health Plan clients to primary care professionals.

“We need to increase the number of health professionals who are working in underserved areas of our state so that people have better access to the care they need. Oregon is a great career destination for primary care, and we are able to offer loan repayment for providers who commit to serving Oregon Health Plan patients in underserved areas of Oregon,” Bruce Goldberg, M.D., Oregon Health Authority director said.

With expanded eligibility for Medicaid next year, more than 250,000 Oregonians are projected to join the Oregon Health Plan by 2016.

“This new program is designed to help meet the needs of a growing population of Oregon Health Plan clients,” says Hilary Gossler, Loan Program Specialist at the Office of Rural Health. “This program will help us attract new primary care providers that we need in rural and underserved areas throughout Oregon.”

This program is offering $4 million in loan repayments to eligible providers. Awardees receive up to $35,000 per year for a minimum of three years and a maximum of five years. In exchange, participants agree to serve Medicaid and other patients in a qualifying practice site. The program will focus on health care provider sites, including federally qualified health centers, federally certified rural health clinics; and sites providing primary care services in areas where there is a health professional shortage, which includes places in most Oregon counties. The Oregon Health Authority may determine other sites providing primary care to an underserved population.

Applications are now available for the new Medicaid Primary Care Loan Repayment Program. Site and provider applications are available on the Office of Rural Health website.

Qualified providers include primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, psychiatrists, dentists and expanded practice dental hygienists, clinical psychologists, licensed clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists. A list of specific qualifications for providers and practice sites can be found on the Office of Rural Health website.

The loan repayment program is also part of Oregon’s agreement with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to transform the health delivery system for better health, better care and lower costs. The agreement also calls for Oregon Health Authority to ensure training for 300 traditional health workers who will support the coordinated model that puts patients at the center of care and reduces waste and inefficiency in the health system. Training programs have begun around the state.

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