California is grappling with a shortage of doctors so severe, the state is paying off the medical school loans of physicians and dentists, hoping to recruit the medical professionals.
There is a condition to the free money, though. To qualify, doctors need to devote a minimum of 30% of their caseloads to the patients of the state's low-income health program, Medi-Cal, for five years, the Los Angeles Times noted.
The first payments were handed out this month: $10.5 million in debt relief was granted to 40 dentists and $58.6 million was received by 247 physicians.
"If you support providing quality care to Medi-Cal patients, we are going to support your journey by providing a little bit of relief on these loans," Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
The initiative comes as California faces a severe shortage of healthcare providers. The recently enacted California budget will spend over $300 million to address the issue – $120 million of that will be used to pay off medical school loans in an effort to recruit healthcare providers to see to Medi-Cal patients.
According to the California Health Care Foundation, the ratio of full-time primary-care doctors had dropped to 39 doctors per 100,000 patients by 2015, The California Health Report noted. The ratio of non-primary-care physicians also dropped dramatically from 91 to 63.
The loan repayment program could be an investment in the long run, said Sandra R. Hernández, a physician and president of the California Health Care Foundation.
"You have a lot of young physicians who graduate from medical school with tremendous debt," she said, according to The Washington Post. "We think this is a good long-term win for getting physicians to serve in under-served areas."
Bryan Ruiz, a dentist whose $300,000 in medical loans is being paid off by the state, said it was a "life-changing" campaign. Newson said the program was about rewarding committed healthcare providers such as Ruiz.
"He's committed his life to this kind of service, and that's what our loan repayment program is about."
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