Senate OKs Marleau’s bill to increase access to health care

LANSING—The state Senate unanimously approved measures Tuesday that would boost a statewide program that recruits medical providers to serve in underserved areas.

Sen. Jim Marleau, chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee, said Senate Bill 649, which he sponsored, and SB 648 will improve access to health care across the state.

“When we can get quality doctors and other health professionals to come and serve in areas where there’s a real need, that’s a good thing,” said Marleau, R-Lake Orion.

The Michigan State Loan Repayment Program service obligations require participants to provide full-time, primary health care services at an eligible nonprofit practice site located in a Health Professional Shortage Area for two years.

The obligations are part of the Michigan Essential Health Provider program, which covers loan repayments for those who have taken out a loan to attend medical school, to train to be a nurse midwife or a nurse practitioner or to train to be a physician’s assistant.

“This legislation focuses on ensuring that families, including children and expecting mothers, have access to efficient health care with a provider they know and trust,” Marleau said.

The Michigan Department of Community Health (DCH), which administers the program, is currently limited under the program to recruiting physicians who are training in general practice, family practice, obstetrics, pediatrics, emergency medicine, internal medicine, preventive medicine, and psychiatry.

SBs 648 and 649 will make the following changes to the Michigan Essential Health Provider program:

  • Include dentists in the loan repayment program;
  • Remove the four-year limit on loan repayments;
  • Increase the maximum annual loan repayment amount to $40,000;
  • Establish a lifetime loan repayment maximum of $200,000;
  • Require an assessment of the lifetime cap;
  • Permit the DCH to give preference to physicians studying general practice, family practice, obstetrics, pediatrics or internal medicine; and
  • Include dental students in the low-income minority student grant program.

SBs 648 and 649 have been sent to the Michigan House for consideration.