Harder Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Fix Doctor Shortage in Central Valley

September 27, 2019
Press Release
California Medical Association Estimates Bill Could Attract and Retain 10,000 Doctors over Ten Years

WASHINGTON – Representatives Josh Harder (CA-10), Paul Cook (CA-08), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Dan Crenshaw (TX-02), and Karen Bass (CA-37) today introduced the bipartisan Stopping Doctor Shortages Act, to close a loophole in federal regulations that prevents doctors in California and Texas from qualifying for student loan repayment programs. The California Medical Association (CMA) estimates the bill could bring 10,000 physicians to the state over the next decade.

“Just about everyone I talk to about health care in the Central Valley tells me the same thing – we just need more doctors – and that’s exactly what my bill would bring to our area,” said Rep. Harder. “This weird quirk in federal regulations puts us at a disadvantage and means new doctors are more likely to leave the state to get tens of thousands of dollars of their loans repaid. If we get this fixed, we’re talking about as many as ten thousand new physicians in California in the next decade alone.”

“This commonsense legislative fix will help attract more doctors to California. This is especially important for rural areas like my district, where we have a shortage of medical resources and doctors,” said Rep. Cook. “I thank my colleagues for joining me in introducing this bipartisan bill.”

“It’s great to work across the aisle to get this done. Current law discourages doctors in Texas and California from serving their communities through working at a non-profit,” said Rep. Crenshaw. “This is unacceptable, especially when Texas already suffers from a physician shortage. This simple fix is a step towards ensuring all physicians get the student loan help they’ve worked for and deserve.” 

“Our hospitals and healthcare clinics are understaffed and undervalued. The doctors who take care of our fellow Americans are not receiving the benefits that were duly promised to them by our government. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is a valuable one and directly impacts those who give their lives in the service of others, particularly in my home state of Texas,” said Congressman Castro (TX-20). “This bill would ensure that all of America’s caretakers are not burdened by medical school loans and can focus their energy, efforts, and expertise on healing our country’s sick.”

“The federal Loan Forgiveness Program has been an important and effective way to address physician shortages across the country. An error in the current law excludes many physicians in California and Texas from the program,” said CMA President David H. Aizuss, M.D. “This bipartisan, technical fix will allow the program to be utilized by physicians in California and Texas who were inadvertently excluded from the original program, including those who practice in children’s hospitals and rural hospitals, and could help California retain or attract as many as 10,000 physicians over the next decade to address critical physician shortages in our state.”

A federal loan repayment program, created in 2007, was designed to give doctors working for nonprofits the opportunity to get their federal student loans forgiven after making on-time payments for ten years. A law in California referred to as the “Corporate Bar” prevents doctors from being directly employed by non-profit organizations, meaning they don’t qualify for the federal loan forgiveness program. When the federal government rolled out the program, they did not account for the unique law in California, meaning doctors have been forced to leave the state or disincentivized from working in nonprofits in search of forgiveness for immense student loan debt. Texas is the only other state with a similar law restricting student loan forgiveness for doctors. 

Rep. Harder’s bill will close the loophole by requiring the Department of Education to allow doctors who conduct full-time work for nonprofits to qualify for the program even if they’re not directly employed by the nonprofit organization.

The bill is endorsed by the California Medical Association and Texas Medical Association.