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6/11/2024 Lauria’s proposals to boost primary care availability heading toward passage
STATE HOUSE – Two initiatives introduced by Sen. Pamela J. Lauria to help address Rhode Island’s shortage of primary care providers passed the Senate today and have been incorporated into the 2025 state budget bill now pending before legislators.

The bills provide funding to enable primary care practices to serve as clinical training sites and would defray student loan payments for people beginning their career as primary care physicians, nurse practitioners or physician assistants in return for a commitment to practice in Rhode Island.

Both bills are part of the HEALTH initiative (Holistic Enhancement and Access Legislation for Total Health) put forward by Senate leaders this session to improve health care access and affordability in Rhode Island.

“Rhode Island has a critical shortage of primary care providers, one that is only going to get worse swiftly if we don’t take action. Right now, Rhode Island is on track to be short about 100 primary care providers by 2030. That’s a shortage large enough to mean 1 in 5 Rhode Islanders will be unable to find a primary care provider,” said Senator Lauria (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), who has worked for 27 years as a primary care nurse practitioner. “As a state, we must recruit, train, retain and sustain the number of primary care providers necessary to meet the health demands of all Rhode Islanders.”

The first bill (2024-S 2716A) establishes a primary care training sites program, which has been funded with $2.7 million in the 2025 state budget bill. The program would address a lack of availability of primary care clinical training, which is required for all those training to be primary care physicians, nurse practitioners or physician assistants.

Offering clinical training and mentorship to students demands time from a practicing provider – time that cannot be spent seeing patients or handling other tasks within their practice. Accordingly, many busy practices today cannot afford to train students.

The program established by the bill would provide up to $90,000 per clinical slot to practices that take on students to train with high standards for patient-centered primary care, to reimburse them for the costs. The legislation also establishes an Office of Primary Care Training within the Department of Health to administer the grant program, provide curriculum and support, and measure the program’s success.

The second bill  (2024-S 2717A) makes funding available through the state’s Wavemaker Fellowship program to help defray the costs of student loan repayment for primary care physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants who work in Rhode Island. The Wavemaker program provides a state tax credit equal to the participant’s minimum monthly student loan payments for up to four years. The 2025 state budget bill adds $500,000 to the Wavemaker program, reserved for primary care providers.

Students studying to become physicians, nurse practitioners or physician assistants typically finish their education with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. Out of necessity, few pursue primary care because it pays much less than many other specialties.

By addressing student loan costs, the program would help students pursue a career in primary care.

Senator Lauria’s bills now go to the House, although the House has already approved the initiatives in them as part of the budget bill, which is now before the Senate.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923