Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Friday that will make it easier to attract doctors who are willing to work in impoverished communities in the central San Joaquin Valley.
Assembly Bill 2048 streamlines the process for doctors who work at federally qualified health centers to be eligible for a federal loan repayment program.
“It’s a bill that was designed to address California’s physician shortage, which is worse in the Valley,” said Adam Capper, spokesman for Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, who introduced the legislation.
Under the new law, federally qualified health centers in California automatically will be eligible to participate in the State Loan Repayment Program, which helps repay the loans of doctors, dentists and nurse practitioners who agree to practice in health professional shortage areas. The program provides $1 million in grant funds to California each year.
In the past, the nonprofit health centers had to fill out an application that could take months to complete, and they had to reapply every three years. Doctors working at a health center could not apply for loan repayment until the health center’s application was approved.
The onerous application process had stymied participation in the loan repayment program. Just one-third of the health centers in the state had applied for the loan repayment program, Capper said. Last year, the program helped 53 doctors, he said.
Health centers need to attract doctors to the Valley, said Stephen Schilling, chief executive officer at Clinica Sierra Vista, which has health centers in Fresno and Bakersfield. “This will free up more opportunity for young clinicians to provide services here in exchange for loan repayment opportunities.”