August 11, 2021, 11:47 a.m. News Staff — The U.S. Department of Education on Aug. 6 announced an extension of the pause on student loan repayment, interest and collections until Jan. 31, 2022. The additional time and a definitive end date would “allow borrowers to plan for the resumption of payments and reduce the risk of delinquency and defaults after restart,” the department said in the announcement, adding that it planned to release resources and information about how to plan for resuming payments.
Throughout the pandemic, the AAFP has been advocating for Congress and federal agencies to help relieve the financial burden on physicians and medical students.
In April 2020, the AAFP joined more than 100 other health care organizations in urging Congress to provide at least $20,000 of federal student loan forgiveness or $20,000 of tuition relief to residents (and medical students graduating early to address the public health crisis) with debt exceeding $200,000.
More recently, the AAFP expressed support for the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act (H.R. 2418) in a May 6 letter to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., whose bill would forgive the outstanding federal and private student loan debt of front-line physicians, medical students and health care workers who are treating patients with coronavirus.
In that same month, the Academy offered additional support for Maloney’s bill in written testimony to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions’ Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security. In addition, the AAFP wrote, “Congress should expand funding for federal programs, including the National Health Service Corps Program, that target primary care, support the deferment of interest and principal payments on medical student loans until after completion of postgraduate training, and we recommend that the interest on medical student loans be deductible on federal tax returns.”
The Academy pointed out in its testimony that the average student loan debt for four years of medical school, undergraduate studies and higher education was $200,000 in 2019, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, and that research has shown that loan forgiveness or repayment programs can directly influence physicians’ specialty choice.
In a July 7 letter to Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., the Academy voiced support for the Creation of Opportunities for Medical Manpower in Underserved Neighborhoods by Indemnifying Tuition and Incentivizing Exceptional Service (COMMUNITIES) Act (H.R. 4285), which would institute 100% loan repayment for primary care clinicians who commit to serving the National Health Service Corps in an eligible underserved community for five years. The NHSC currently offers participants loan repayments of $50,000 for a two-year commitment and up to $100,000 for five years.
“The COMMUNITIES Act will help strengthen the primary care physician pipeline, increase access to health care to communities in most need, address medical school debt burdens and help ensure wider access to medical education opportunities,” the Academy said.