Aiming to lure more doctors to underserved parts of Hawaii and help reduce the student debt load in the state, the House-Senate conference committee in Hawaii is urging lawmakers to pass a bill that would provide funding for physicians to pay off a portion of their student debt.
Being touted as House Bill 916, the law would set aside $250,000 of state money that would help fund a physician student loan repayment program for doctors who choose to practice medicine in poorly served areas of Hawaii.
According to a report by Maui News, Senator Josh Green said the bill is a “bellwether piece of legislation” which needs to be approved. He told the Maui News that under the bill the state would get federal money that matches its investment which would give the program $500,000 a year for a total of $1 million over two years. Green estimates the funding will help reduce the student loans for twenty primary care doctors in an area that is facing the biggest shortage on the islands.
“I’m really happy that this is happening,” he said in the report, noting that on the Neighbor Islands the doctor shortage is extremely bad. The senator said patients on the Big Island typically wait two to three months to get in to see a doctor. Exasperating the problem is the fact that 31 percent of Hawaii’s physician workforce is nearing retirement age with predictions that within ten years 52 percent of doctors in Hawaii will be 65 years old or older, reported the Maui News.
When it comes to student loan debt, all sorts of graduates and non-graduates are struggling to get out from under it. For medical students it’s even worse given they typically owe a lot more than their undergraduate counterparts. According to the report, the average indebtedness for medical students is $235,000, with some owing between $300,000 and $600,000.
Across the country, the average cost in 2016 for a single year of attendance at a public medical school was $32,495, according to data from LendEDU. That jumps to $52,515 a year for private medical schools. That covers tuition and fees but not living expenses, books, and other coursework. As a result, LendEDU.com found many medical students are forced to take out private loans to bankroll their education. On an undergraduate basis the average student loan debt in Hawaii is lower than the national average of around $28,000. According to LendEDU data, college graduates in the state owe $23,574 on average.
Given the shortage of primary care doctors and the cost of medical schools, lenders have also been stepping up to provide some relief, at least for a period of time. Last month Sallie Mae highlighted its Medical Residency and Relocation Loan, which is open to medical, dental, podiatry, or veterinary school students in their final year. Proceeds from the loan can go towards travel costs, board examination fees, and other costs associated with making the switch from student to doctor. The loan comes with zero origination or disbursement fees, and no prepayment penalties. The loan has a variable interest rate with starting rates ranging from a low of 3.82 percent to a high of 10.19 percent APR according to Sallie Mae in its press release.
Author: Dave Rathmanner
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