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Durbin seeks to address rural health workforce shortage

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was in Granite City on Thursday to highlight bipartisan legislation to address critical rural health workforce shortages.

Introduced last month, the Rural America Health Corps Act would create a new program that builds upon the existing National Health Service Corps program by providing new, dedicated student loan forgiveness funding for health care providers that serve in rural communities.

Twenty percent of Americans live in rural communities, yet only 11 percent of physicians practice in rural settings. Across Illinois, 3.3 million people live in communities with shortages of doctors, five million people live in communities with shortages of mental health professionals, and 2.3 million people live in communities with shortages of dentists.

“Serious health workforce shortages in rural Illinois communities cause patients difficulty in accessing the health care they need.  There are too few medical providers and long distances between them.  The bipartisan Rural America Health Corps Act provides new funding to expand loan forgiveness programs so we can attract and retain more doctors, dentists, behavioral health specialists, and nurses in rural communities,” Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said.

The current National Health Service Corps program provides up to $50,000 annually to repay student loans for primary care doctors, dentists, behavioral health clinicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants for two years of service in a “health professional shortage area.”  Eligible locations include urban and rural hospitals and community health clinics with a shortage of providers.  It provides approximately 3,100 new loan forgiveness awards each year — but only 30 percent of National Health Service Corps program participants serve in rural communities.

 

The Rural America Health Corps Act would authorize a new $25 million program that would bolster the existing rural National Health Service Corps placements and would provide funding for up to five years – an increase from the current two-year forgiveness period – for doctors, dentists, behavioral health specialists, and nurse practitioners, which would assist with recruitment and retention efforts.

In addition to focusing on rural health-specific proposals, Durbin has introduced two other new pieces of legislation this year to specifically help address the outrageous prices of prescription drugs — which are impacting Illinoisans in both urban and rural communities.

FLAT Prices Act

In February, Durbin introduced the Forcing Limits on Abusive and Tumultuous (FLAT) Drug Prices Act, which aims to prevent pharmaceutical companies from hiking the price of prescription drugs, by penalizing them for price increases of more than 10 percent through reductions in their reducing the government-granted monopoly period.

REMEDY Act

In April, Durbin introduced the bipartisan Reforming Evergreening and Manipulation that Extends Drug Years (REMEDY) Act, which aims to crack down on pharmaceutical patent abuses that shield their drugs from generic competition.  Specifically, the REMEDY Act would narrow the barriers that generic drugmakers face when seeking FDA approval, which will help to bring lower-cost competition to the drug market and remove an incentive for brand-name pharmaceutical companies to amass excessive numbers of follow-on. Sanofi’s Lantus insulin has obtained 45 follow-on patents after FDA approval in 2000, which has extended its effective monopoly period for 37 years.

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