Gov’t seeks $30M medical student loan forgiveness program admin
The Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF, in Spanish) recently opened a Request for Proposals (RFP) cycle to choose an administrator for Puerto Rico’s $30 million medical student loan forgiveness program.
The proposal must be submitted via email by July 22 at 5 p.m.
The independent administration will oversee the Medical Student Loan Forgiveness Program, established by the Health Resources and Services Administration to help Puerto Rico address the escalating healthcare professional shortage and retain them on the island.
It also seeks to attract health professionals who practice in the US mainland to accept job offers on the island, to address the growing shortage, AAFAF Executive Director Omar Marrero said.
The program has $10 million in Fiscal 2020, and $20 million in Fiscal 2021 that have been appropriated and are being held by the Puerto Rico Treasury Department until they are disbursed, according to the RFP.
Under this program, each medical student or resident would be eligible for up to $25,000 of loan forgiveness per year of service — up to four years — in underserved areas. The Medical Student Loan Forgiveness Program responds to the increased need for healthcare providers in underserved areas following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is an initiative to face one of the biggest and most urgent challenges facing the health system in Puerto Rico: the lack of doctors and other health professionals to attend to the health needs of our people,” said Marrero.
“By forgiving part of the student loans they contracted to subsidize their education, we help these young professionals to stay in Puerto Rico to provide their health services here on the Island,” Marrero said.
The government’s Fiscal Plan requires AAFAF to carry out a “competitive and transparent process” to select an administrator with experience to manage the funds assigned to the program.
That administrator will have to conduct an initial evaluation of the program’s goals, proposing an efficient plan to achieve them and establishing and carrying out a competitive process to distribute the funds and ensure accountability, Marrero said.
It is estimated that as of 2018, two-thirds of primary care physicians in Puerto Rico were older than 55 years, as compared with a national rate of 43%. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic the island had already faced shortages of medical professionals due to a myriad of factors including recent natural disasters and economic challenges.
Over the past decade, retention issues of healthcare professionals that have obtained advanced degrees from medical programs and/or completed residency programs have increased substantially, the RFP explains.
The RFP cites a study conducted by the Robert Graham Centre that showed that only four out of every 10 graduates of family medicine residencies from 2011 to 2017 remained on the island in 2018. During that time, 111 family medicine residents graduated among the island’s four residency programs. Of those 111 graduates, only 45 remained practicing on the island in 2018, for a retention rate of 40.5%, one of the lowest in the United States.