The California Department of Health Care Services has awarded $69.4 million toward student loan repayments for 249 physicians and 41 dentists to expand health care access for Medi-Cal patients.
CalHealthCares, the loan repayment program, incentivizes physicians and dentists to serve Medi-Cal beneficiaries by repaying educational debt up to $300,000 in exchange for a five-year service obligation.
The CalHealthCares program is funded by Proposition 56, the state tobacco tax co-sponsored by CDA and passed by voters in 2016.
“Expanding access to care will ensure California’s most vulnerable residents receive oral health care, which is essential to overall health,” said Dr. Judee Tippett-Whyte, California Dental Association president. “Student loan debt is one of the biggest financial hurdles new dentists face, and without that burden they will be able to follow their passion of providing care for the underserved.”
'Receiving this grant means I can follow my passion'
Dr. Jean Calvo, a pediatric dentist who serves on the faculty at U.C. San Francisco, is a 2017 UCSF Dental School graduate, who says her grant of approximately $200,000 will allow her to provide care for special needs children covered by Medi-Cal, many of whom travel hours to seek care.
“I am passionate about working with this underserved group of children as very few dentists in California see these children. Working with this population can take more time or have lower reimbursement rates than treating healthy privately insured children,” said Dr. Calvo. “Receiving this grant means I can follow my passion of providing dental care to the children who have the highest levels of need and the most barriers to obtaining care without worrying about the student loan burden I had accumulated.”
The most recent grant recipients were awarded as part of the third of five rounds of funding, with the goal of increasing the number of providers who participate in Medi-Cal, which provides health care to nearly one-third of Californians, including half of the state’s children. In total, $340 million has been allocated to the CalHealthCares program from voter-approved Proposition 56.
The average student loan debt burden of a CalHealthCares applicant is more than $360,000. Awardees receive up to $300,000 for school-debt relief in exchange for meeting certain criteria, including maintaining a caseload of at least 30% Medi-Cal patients.
Dr. Calvo encourages eligible dentists to consider applying for the grant, especially those interested in providing care to underserved communities.
“Applying for the grant was fairly simple, and the staff at CalHealthCares has been very supportive in responding to questions about the application process,” Dr. Calvo said. “I think that all health care providers should do the best they can by providing care to those in our communities who need it most. I am so grateful to CalHealthCares for incentivizing providers to treat these underserved groups.”
The next application process for the CalHealthCares program will launch in early 2022 and awardees will be notified in June. For more information, visit calhealthcares.org (#CalHealthCares on social media).