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Oregon Health Plan members get more access to health care providers; providers get help paying off student loans

As more people in Oregon gain access to health care services, the state is working to increase the number of qualified primary care providers in underserved communities. The Medicaid Loan Repayment Program is offering health professional loan repayments to primary care providers if they agree to work in practices with a high concentration of Medicaid clients.

Awardees receive 20 percent of their unpaid student debt, up to $35,000 per year, for a minimum of three years, for a full-time participant and a maximum of five years, for a part-time participant. In exchange, participants agree to serve Medicaid and other patients in a qualifying practice site. There are qualifying sites in every Oregon county.

The state has announced the second group of providers to take part in this program.

Adding primary providers is essential to increase access to health care for Oregonians. About 971,000 Oregonians are on the Oregon Health Plan; 357,500 received coverage since Jan. 1, 2014. According to a Gallup Poll, only 14 percent of Oregonians are now uninsured.

“We must improve access to health care providers as we transform the health care system. I want to extend congratulations to the award recipients and thank them for their service to the state,” said Suzanne Hoffman, interim director of the Oregon Health Authority.

“The need continues to grow for providers in our rural and urban underserved communities,” says Scott Ekblad, director, Oregon Office of Rural Health at Oregon Health & Science University. “This program is important in helping us meet that need.”

Melissa Paulissen, a family medicine physician, begins work in mid-August at the Tillamook Family Health Center. She wanted the team approach for patient-centered care that the health center uses for better patient care. For example a team could include a mental health therapist, a social worker, a nutritionist, a home visiting nurse and a health coach.

“The team approach is so much more effective because we have more tools to help people reach their health goals,” Paulissen, 38, said.

In addition, her award through the Medicaid Primary Care Loan Repayment Program will help her pay off her education loans sooner.

“We need more primary care doctors in underserved communities. The loan repayment program allowed me to work in a rural underserved clinic while alleviating some of the significant loan burden for recent graduates," she said.

Other awards were made to the following individuals:

  • Marcus Cooksey, 36, F.N.P., is working at Mid-County Health Center, a Multnomah County health clinic in southeast Portland that provides care to culturally diverse and financially underserved people. The health center is often the starting point for many of the refugees assigned to Oregon. Some people have never stepped foot inside a hospital or have never received vaccinations, medications or any health care in their lives. Cooksey speaks Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, which, he said, he uses every day with patients. “When I go into the room and I start speaking in their language they are so glad. They are just happy they can express themselves more fluently,” Cooksey said.
  • Laurel Hallock Koppelman, 41, D.N.P., is working at Mid-County Health Center, a Multnomah County health clinic in southeast Portland. “I wanted to be on the ground doing things such as preventing people from having strokes by managing their hypertension and promoting smoking cessation and other preventive things. Part of joining county health is the chance to work in an environment where people haven’t always had the opportunity to access health care because of a lack of services or where they were born. The big thing for me is to teach people how to use health care services in primary care and to keep people out of the emergency department,” Koppelman said.
  • Ishmael Togamae, M.P.H., M.D., 43, is also at the Mid-County Health Center. Togamae, originally from Solomon Islands, speaks Maringa and Pijin English, which helps with patients from Micronesia. “I chose to be part of the program to help patients who have been underinsured and have had trouble accessing services in the past, but who are now in the health system. I believe they should be seen at the primary care level,” he said.
  • William Trevor, D.D.S., 31, is working at Arrow Dental Clinic, in northeast Salem, operated by Moda Health, offering comprehensive care to a population of primarily OHP clients.“Many dentists begin their careers wanting to help people who need help most, he said. “But with the average dental school debt climbing to around $241,000, the same dentists also feel compelled to work in settings that offer the greatest compensation. Programs like this allow practitioners to put concerns over debt aside and focus on helping people. It's a rewarding experience to be able to work with this population. There are so many people who have never had actual dental care. It's an opportunity to make a real improvement in quality of life.”

The education loan repayment program is offering a total of $3.6 million in loan repayments. About 25 to 30 additional health care providers are expected to be participants in this program. Earlier this year five providers were added to the program.

Applications are available on the OHSU 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.

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