HHS' announcement that the number of National Health Service Corps members has nearly tripled since 2008 reflects the department's emphasis on primary care, according to HHS officials.
Members of service corps nearly triple: HHS
“When you don't have access to primary care, small health problems grow into big ones,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, at a news teleconference. “Way too many Americans have gone without check-ups, preventive screenings, vaccines, routine dental work and other care simply because there was no one to see,” she said.
According to the HHS, there are now more than 10,000 clinicians in the National Health Service Corps. The agency estimates that these providers care for about 10.5 million patients, compared with about 3,600 National Health Service Corps providers who cared for about 3.7 million patients three years ago.
The nearly 40-year-old program—which is administered through HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration—provides financial, educational and professional resources to medical, dental and behavioral healthcare providers in areas of the country that have limited access to healthcare services. According to an HRSA spokesman, the NHSC has awarded about $900 million in scholarships and loan repayment to healthcare professionals over the past three years to expand the country's primary-care workforce. That funding has come from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and base appropriations.
“Eighty-two percent of NHSC clinicians continue to serve in high-need areas after they fulfill their service commitment,” HRSA Administrator Mary Wakefield said in a news release. “These awards help ensure that underserved communities across the country have access to quality healthcare both today and in the future.”
In 2011, the NHSC loan repayment program gave 5,418 awards totaling $253 million, while the NHSC scholarship program gave 247 awards totaling $46 million. The loan program provides an initial, tax-free award of up to $60,000 for two years of service in an underserved community and the opportunity to pay off all health professional student loans with continued service. Meanwhile, the scholarship program pays tuition, required fees and other costs for as many as four years.
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