Resident physicians on average carry $250,000 in medical school debt, while essentially earning less than minimum wage. Forgiving student loans will:
1. Improve the mental health of our communities
2. Provide relief from the financial damage of COVID-19
3. Promote both the access and quality of healthcare
With $1.7 trillion dollars in student debt, Americans face a devastating financial crisis. Spiraling student debt, which has more than doubled in the last decade alone, is contributing to high levels of economic uncertainty, forcing entire generations to delay major life milestones, and crippling their ability to provide stability for their families. Systemic inequities exacerbate this crisis as women, African Americans, and those from low socio-economic communities are overburdened with a disproportionate share of that debt. It’s time that we take a stand now for healthcare workers, our patients, and our community. It’s time to forgive student debt for all!
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Mental Health and Well-being for Healthcare Workers & Our Patients
The increasing burden of student debt is affecting the mental health and well-being of physicians and their patients. Recent survey data found that 53% of high student debt borrowers experienced depression because of their debt, 9 out of 10 borrowers experienced anxiety due to their debt, and 1 in 15 borrowers had considered suicide because of their debt. Medical student debt levels have long been linked to poor mental well- being and academic outcomes for physicians. Healthcare workers struggle to provide care for patients who often have to make decisions about getting or delaying care as they consider costs and their own student debts. As our limited physician workforce has to take on even more patients, U.S. doctors are stretched thin, correlating to higher rates of burnout and suicide. Combined with large and overwhelming school debt, these conditions ultimately damage the quality of care patients are able to receive.
Access to Care and Diversity & Inclusion in Medicine
With an ever-growing shortage of doctors in the U.S, the staggering cost of medical school and necessity to take on significant debt continue to be major impediments preventing many would-be doctors from pursuing medicine. These realities are especially true for people of color who have less access to the resources needed to overcome these obstacles. Diverse and rural communities suffer the most as a result. Research has shown that patients are more comfortable around doctors they can identify with and are more likely to seek out their services. Additionally, Black, Latinx, Native American and other doctors from underrepresented groups in medicine produce better health outcomes for their patients of color. Diversity in medicine is good for patient care yet the underrepresentation of people of color among physicians and dentists is extraordinary. Addressing the issue of student debt would provide doctors of color and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds greater opportunity and flexibility to practice as they wish.
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COVID-19 & Public Loan Forgiveness Programs
The impact of COVID-19 has laid bare the disparate economic burdens borne by different groups in America, as the wealthy have enjoyed substantial net worth growth as the pandemic wreaks economic havoc on nearly everyone else. Infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths remain concentrated among the poor and middle class, yet too many elected officials are focused on limiting economic relief to these Americans. These same officials unified in 2017 to provide $1.9 trillion, more than the $1.7 trillion in total outstanding student debt, in tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefitted wealthy shareholders and highly paid executives like those that run our hospitals. As Covid-19 has pushed people to the brink with piling bills and losses in income, healthcare, and housing, cancellation of student debt will provide critically needed relief.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) was established in 2007 and sold to graduates as a way to forgive their remaining education debt after 10 years of qualified public service and payments. The reality is that the program is plagued with fundamental issues that render it essentially meaningless. The most recent data shows that 98.5% of applications for loan forgiveness under PSLF were denied in 2019. A lack of transparency, available information, and a standardized evaluation process have left borrowers reeling. The mismanagement of the PSLF and other similar programs has meant that debt overburdened healthcare workers have found little relief. Wary of the low chances of success under the program, physicians instead look for reprieve by limiting their practice to the highest paid specialties and areas. This deprives underserved communities, especially rural and minority areas, of primary care like family medicine and OB/GYN services. The current system is driving care from where it is needed most and there is a critical need for structural policy reform.