A new bill designed to combat the health care workforce shortage would, if passed, funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to provide scholarships and debt forgiveness for 20,000 health care workers, including mental health professionals.
The additional funding would increase the amount currently allocated to the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) from $310 million to $950 million. The funds would provide scholarships and debt forgiveness for mental health professionals, doctors, nurses and dentists who work in underserved areas.
The NHSC currently supports more than 20,000 health providers across more than 20,000 sites, including health centers, rural health clinics, American Indian and Alaska Native health clinics, school-based clinics and community mental health centers.
The bill, known as the Bipartisan Primary Care and Health Workforce Act, was introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).
“Despite the very serious mental health crisis, we’re facing a massive shortage of mental health providers, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, etc.,” Sanders said.
Sanders credited the shortage of health care workers to, among other reasons, a lack of federal spending on primary care.
“It turns out that the United States, despite all our spending on health care, spends about half of what other nations do on primary health care,” he said. “We spend approximately 7% [of the U.S. health care budget on primary care]. Most other countries spend at least twice as much.”
Increased spending for primary care will save money in the long run, Sanders said, citing the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The legislation would also provide $3 billion in capital funding for health centers to increase access to behavioral health and dental services.
“Community health care centers are a vital player in addressing the health care challenges we face today,” Marshall said. “This legislation expands Americans’ access to these health centers that provide excellent care like in-house mental health services, dental care and nutrition coaching.”
Along with proposed funding for the NHSC and health centers, another $1.5 billion would be allocated to the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program and $100 million would be funneled to a Workforce Innovation Fund to help train and educate allied health care workers.
Although Marshall co-introduced the bill that would provide a total of $26 billion in funding, he took to the X platform the same day the bill passed through the Senate HELP Committee to call America’s national debt “unsustainable.”
“I’ve always said that I’d work with any of my colleagues as long as the person sitting across the table and I have the same common goal,” Marshall said about the bill. “We believe this investment will save Medicaid and Medicare tens of billions of dollars and, more importantly, provide improved health care outcomes for all Americans.”
The bill passed the Senate HELP Committee on Sept. 21 with a bipartisan vote of 14 to seven.