Bill would offer tuition reimbursement to mental health practitioners who work in underserved areas

Anjalee Khemlani, NJBIZ

Borrowing from military and public health practices, a growing trend to help care for populations in underserved areas is once again being introduced in New Jersey.

By offering partial reimbursements for medical school tuition, in exchange for working in designated underserved areas, the state hopes to fill a shortage in mental health care.

The bill by Assemblywomen Mila Jasey (D- Maplewood) and Valerie Huttle (D-Englewood) and Assemblyman John McKeon (D- Madison), which was introduced in June, was advanced by an Assembly panel Thursday.

“The decrease in mental health centers in the state has left a void in care for New Jersey residents who rely on these services,” said McKeon. “Mostly low-income urban and rural communities are without access to these services. This bill is about creating opportunity and access for residents.”

The bill calls for the Commissioner of Health to designate underserved areas, based on health status and economic indicators, which are in need of psychiatrists. The physicians must provide care for patients regardless of ability to pay, according to the bill.

The bill allows for a reimbursement if the psychiatrist is a resident of New Jersey, a state-licensed physician and applies for the program within a year of completing a residency. The physician must agree to stay and practice in the area for a period of one to four years, according to the bill.

The intent of this legislation is to increase access to much-needed care in underserved communities,” Jasey said.

Huttle added that the legislation is just one step in expanding access to care for residents.

The state has been wrestling with the anticipated physician shortage across multiple disciplines while sharply increasing medical school enrollment in recent years.