WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are saving lives. Communities around the country have shown their gratitude with street shows of lights and sirens, while legislators in the nation’s capital have started to consider more tangible gratitude, like possible student loan forgiveness.
“That loan forgiveness in Congress is absolutely warranted and does have a place in the fourth supplemental,” said Matthew Shick with the Association of American Medical Colleges.
AAMC is advocating for a student loan forgiveness bill that would help health care workers specifically.
“It could ease the financial burden and focus on what is in front of them,” Shick added.
However, Congress has some tough decisions ahead.
There are several different student loan forgiveness bills and proposals on the hill. S.2235 and H.R.6363 are two bills that tackle student loan forgiveness for almost everyone with student loan debt. They each cap the amount to be forgiven, while other broad student loan forgiveness proposals effort a forgiveness of all federal student loan debt.
In contrast to the broad student loan forgiveness proposals, in recent weeks, two narrow student loans forgiveness bills have been introduced. The HEROES Act (H.R.6800) and the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Healthcare Workers Act (H.R.6720) focus on workers on the frontlines.
The HEROES Act proposes student loan forgiveness for healthcare workers and other essential workers, capping it though at $25,000 per person. The Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Healthcare Workers Act proposes eliminating all graduate school debt for healthcare workers, specifically.
“This might be the turning point to really invest in our physician workforce, to not only address COVID-19, but future public health crises,” Shick added.
Before this pandemic, the U.S. was already dealing with a growing doctor shortage, especially in lower-paying specialties and in rural communities.
The AAMC predicts the U.S. could see of shortage of 122,000 physicians by 2032. However, AAMC also believes, by eliminating some or all of their debt, more physicians could afford to serve in lower-paying but much needed specialties. Thus, after the pandemic is over, the country could be in a better position to address the doctor shortage and distribution issues in specialties and in underserved communities.
“I think the biggest lesson we can earn from the pandemic is that you can’t wait until the last minute to act and you need to be thinking about the future, because this isn’t the last pandemic. It is not the last health crisis,” said Shick.