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The best health care investment you’ve never heard of...

Posted by John McDonough  December 1, 2013 08:09 PM

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It's called the National Health Service Corps. Since 1972 it has provided medical education loan repayment for young medical professionals who provide primary care services in medically underserved areas of the U.S. NHSC provides scholarships to medical, osteopathic, dental and behavioral health students or loan repayment after they graduate in exchange for their service to needy populations in health professional shortage areas -- see map below.

hpsa_primaryscore530.jpg(By the way, next time you hear about physician shortages in Massachusetts, please remember this map!)

Now, here's some good news. This past week the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the federal agency that runs the NHSC, reported that 8,900 health professionals are now NHSC providers serving about 9.3 million Americans. That's more than double the number of Corps providers as recently as 2008. How come?

You probably guessed -- the Affordable Care Act provided an additional $284 million to expand the Corps, thanks to the advocacy of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Here is some more good news. HRSA Administrator Dr. Mary K. Wakefield reports that "More than 85 percent of National Health Service Corps providers continue to serve in high need areas two years after their service commitment is met."

Click here to read the stories of 40 current NHSC clinicians. Here's a bit about Roberto Beltran, asm_robertobeltran.jpg nurse practitioner and immigrant from Peru who is fulfilling his NHSC obligation at the Uphams Corner Health Center in Dorchester:

"Upham's clinic in urban Dorchester serves a diverse population and on any given day, Roberto finds himself switching between Spanish, English, and the Portuguese-based Creole he's learning from the Cape Verde immigrants who make up one-third of the clinic's patients. Some of his time is spent seeing walk-in patients in the urgent care department, and Roberto is proud of his work to improve work flow systems to enable patients being seen quicker. 'We would like to maximize the capability for walk-in care and want people to come to their community health centers and not the ER.'

"But, most of Roberto's time is spent in geriatric care, which includes home visits for some patients. As clinical coordinator for the geriatrics program, Roberto oversees a staff of six and works with the clinic's primary care providers to deliver interdisciplinary and integrated care to patients."

The National Health Service Corps -- something else to like about the ACA.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

John E. McDonough is a professor of practice at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of the book “Inside National Health Reform”, published in 2011 by More »


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