The California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) will award $10.5 million to 40 dentists to help pay off their student loan debt as part of a new program to expand access to care for Medi-Cal patients.
Nearly 240 dentists applied to the CalHealthCares loan repayment program, which pays up to $300,000 in debt relief in exchange for meeting certain criteria, including maintaining a patient caseload with at least 30% Medi-Cal patients for five years.
“Dentists with significant student loan debt may find it more difficult financially to commit to care for the Medi-Cal population,” said DHCS director Jennifer Kent. “Helping them to pay off their debt will make that commitment possible.”
The awardees will provide services to Medi-Cal patients in 20 counties throughout California. Most of the awardees are general dentists, and nine are specialists. Their practice settings include community clinic or Federally Qualified Health Centers, academic settings, group practices, and private practices.
A total of $340 million, including $50 million for dentists, has been allocated to CalHealthCares from Proposition 56 revenue, which comes from the 2017 increase in tobacco taxes. The recent announcement of awardees is the first of at least five rounds of funding.
CalHealthCares will accept applications for its next round of awards in January 2020. All awardees must:
- Have an unrestricted license and be in good standing with their licensing board
- Be an active enrolled Medi-Cal provider without suspensions, disbarments, or revocations; or have submitted an application to DHCS to become a Medi-Cal provider
- Have graduated from dental school, a dental/physician residency program, and/or completed a fellowship within the past five years
- Not currently be participating in another loan repayment program
- Practice in California
- Have existing educational loan debt incurred while pursuing a medical or dental degree (those applying for the loan repayment program)
- Have an existing dental practice and expand and/or relocate to a targeted county (those applying for the practice support grant)
- Maintain a patient caseload of 30% of more Medi-Cal beneficiaries
“Expanding access to care will ensure California’s most vulnerable residents receive oral healthcare, which is essential to overall health,” said Del Brunner, DDS, president of the California Dental Association.
“We know student loan debt is one of the biggest financial hurdles a dentist may face, and this program will allow practitioners to follow their passion of providing care for the underserved,” Brunner said.
“Without the burden of student loan debt, dentists have more economic freedom that allows them to make the commitment to serve the Medi-Cal population’s dental needs,” said Kent.