Loan Forgiveness Bill a Key Step in the Right Direction

Author(s): 

Linda Hiddemen Baroness,
Executive Vice-President

In an important step toward alleviating the serious and growing shortage of geriatrics specialists in this country, Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) recently introduced a bipartisan bill to provide loan forgiveness for physicians who pursue advanced training in geriatric medicine or geriatric psychiatry.

The AGS worked closely with the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry on getting this legislation—The Geriatrics Loan Forgiveness Act of 2005 (H.R. 3046)—introduced. And we were encouraged by news that Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to introduce the bill in the Senate in the near future.

The proposed Loan Forgiveness Act would amend the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program (NHSCLRP) so that it covers geriatric training. Designed to address shortages of health professionals in designated areas of the U.S., the NHSCLRP assists in repayment of health professions education loans to professionals who agree to serve in these areas. Under the proposed legislation, the program would include each year of fellowship training in geriatric medicine or geriatric psychiatry as a year of obligated service under the program. More specifically, the program would cover up to $35,000 of education debt for each year of advanced training required to obtain a certificate of added qualifications in geriatric medicine or geriatric psychiatry.

We need this legislation. Most new physicians finish medical school with at least $100,000 in student loans. That, coupled with the fact that geriatrics is one of the least profitable specialties, is among the reasons so many new graduates steer clear of the field.

We can’t afford to keep losing them. The country already has 12,000 fewer geriatricians than it needs. Unless we take measures to address the underlying contributors to the problem, the shortfall could reach crisis proportions in the next 25 years, as the nation’s 77 million Baby Boomers reach retirement age.

As Rep. DeLauro noted, “The complex problems associated with aging require a supply of physicians with special training in the needs of seniors. We must provide incentives to attract physicians into a geriatric specialty to address the shortfall in this field and prepare our health care system to handle the strain of a growing senior population.”

The AGS is also committed to seeking loan forgiveness for clinical pharmacists, advanced nurse practitioners, and others entering geriatrics to work in acute care, long-term care, and other settings. We’re facing shortages in those disciplines as well.

We see the Loan Forgiveness Act as an important first step. And that’s why we’re calling on you to support it. Please contact your members of Congress and voice your support for this legislation. Also cosponsoring the bill are Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Rep. Major Owens (D-NY), Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), Rep. Fortney Pete Stark (D-CA), Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-VT), and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). Visit www.americangeriatrics. org/policy/key_contact.shtml for information on how to contact your legislators. And help us move in the right direction.

Regards,