Durbin, Blackburn, Budzinski Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Increase Medical Providers In Rural Communities

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and U.S Representative Nikki Budzinski (D-IL-13) today introduced the bipartisan Rural America Health Corps Act.  The legislation will incentivize more health professionals to serve and plant roots in rural communities. 

U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Tina Smith (D-MN) are sponsoring this legislation. 

“Patients across rural Illinois face challenges accessing the health care they need because of serious workforce shortages – with too few medical providers and long distances between them,” said Durbin. “Our bipartisan bill provides new funding and support for rural communities by expanding loan forgiveness programs so we can attract and retain more doctors, nurses, physician assistants, dentists, and behavioral health specialists.”

“This bipartisan bill will help incentivize more health professionals to work in rural health facilities by establishing a structured program to forgive medical school loans,” said Blackburn. “It is critical that we explore all possible options to increase access to care for rural Tennesseans and I am pleased to see so many of my colleagues supporting legislation to do just that.” 

“Every American deserves access to high-quality health care — no matter where they live. But, a shortage of health care professionals in rural communities continues to impact folks in Central and Southern Illinois,” said Budzinski. “The Rural America Health Corps Act would help our communities recruit and retain essential health care providers.  Thank you to Rep. David Kustoff, Rep. Diana Harshbarger, Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Marsha Blackburn for coming together across the aisle to improve access to care in underserved communities.” 

The Rural America Health Corps Act creates a new program under the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) National Health Service Corps (NHSC) to test whether an increased loan repayment amount and longer service commitment would better enhance recruitment and retention of doctors, nurses, dentists, and behavioral health providers in rural areas.  Compared to the national average of 35 percent, only 23 percent of NHSC clinicians in Illinois serve in rural areas. 

Nearly 100 million Americans live in communities with too few doctors, and half the country lives in a mental health care desert.  It is estimated that the United States needs 450,000 nurses over the next two years, and is projected to face a shortage of 120,000 physicians over the next decade.  One of the biggest barriers is the high cost of pursuing graduate education for health care providers, which can leave new doctors with an average debt of more than $200,000.

The NHSC addresses these workforce shortages and health disparities by enticing promising students from diverse backgrounds into health careers in underserved communities by providing scholarship and loan repayment funding in exchange for a service commitment in an urban or rural area.  Nationwide, more than 21 million patients were delivered care by NHSC providers.  Across Illinois, more than 935 clinicians with NHSC serve in community health centers and hospitals.