Healthcare Business News

Student loan repayment program for mental health professionals considered in Idaho

By Rachel Landen
Posted: March 13, 2014 - 12:30 pm ET

Lawmakers in Idaho are weighing the possibility of launching an educational loan repayment program to attract mental health professionals to two state hospitals.

The bill, which passed the state Senate through a unanimous vote March 4, would institute loan repayments for psychiatrists, psychologists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at State Hospital North in Orofino, Idaho, and State Hospital South in Blackfoot, Idaho. Newly recruited professionals, as well as current employees, would be eligible to participate in the program after one year at either hospital.

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Under the proposed plan, loan repayment disbursements would occur over a four-year period and range from an annual maximum of $10,000 to a maximum of $25,000, depending on the type of professional and his or her year of service.

The bill is needed, according to its sponsors, to attract and retain mental health professionals to positions in an environment with below market salaries and remote hospital locations. Orofino's population is estimated at 3,000, and Blackfoot's is nearly 12,000.

In 2012, the average medical student graduated with $166,750 in debt, according to the American Medical Association. That's up more than 52% from just a decade ago when the average indebtedness of a medical school graduate was $109,457.

Funding for the Idaho Department of Health and Wellness program would come from an endowment. The state's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved that this week, allowing for a $170,000 endowment to be split evenly between the two facilities. The bill is now up for debate on the House floor after being sent to the floor by the House Health and Welfare Committee.

Follow Rachel Landen on Twitter: @MHrlanden

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