Lara Announces Legislation to Help DREAMERS Pursuing Medical Careers Qualify for State Loan Forgiveness, Scholarship Programs

February 18, 2016

SACRAMENTO, CA – Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) today introduced SB 1139 to address the chronic shortage of medical professionals in underserved communities by ensuring that all people, regardless of their immigration status, have access to the state’s scholarship and loan forgiveness programs for health professionals. The Medical DREAMER Opportunity Act will help grow California’s medical workforce and expand opportunity for talented students who are on the path to completing their studies in the medical field. 

“Many undocumented students face challenges financing their education, particularly when it comes to pursuing a career in the medical field,” said Senator Lara. “These talented students struggle to access loans and do not qualify for federal loan forgiveness programs. Despite the ability for undocumented students to apply for a professional license, these future physicians, nurses and clinical social workers and medical assistants are unable to apply for scholarships or loan repayment. Undocumented health professionals deserve to compete in state programs that help mitigate the cost of their training, especially when their licensing fees contribute to these very programs.”  

Under the Affordable Care Act more Californians than ever are insured, many with specific cultural and linguistic barriers to care. In addition, the state continues to face service shortages of primary care providers. Under SB 1159, beginning in 2016, individuals who have met all requirements for licensure in a profession regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs, can apply to a health professional board for a professional license, using either a social security number (SSN) or an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). Expanded access to licensure helps California meet the cultural and linguistic needs of its diverse, newly insured and medically-underserved populations. Undocumented providers would be uniquely positioned to serve these diverse and underserved communities.

Housed within the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD), the Health Professions Education Foundation (HPEF) is a statutorily created non-profit foundation that awards scholarships and loan repayments, targeting health professionals (e.g., physicians, nurses, clinical social workers, therapists, medical assistants, medical laboratory technicians, and dental hygienist) who are able to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate care within medically underserved areas. 

HPEF is funded through administrative fines and penalties on health plans, Proposition 63, and various other grants, in addition to health professional licensing surcharges. Recipients of the HPEF scholarship or loan repayment programs can receive maximum awards of $4,000 - $105,000 depending on the scholarship or loan forgiveness award. 

By continuing efforts made to remove academic and professional barriers to undocumented students, SB1139 would ensure that all individuals who wish to pursue a medical profession may compete for scholarships and loan repayments available under the HPEF, if they have met all other conditions of the program. It would enable an applicant to provide an ITIN in lieu of a SSN, and prohibit the HPEF from barring an applicant based on his or her immigration status. Undocumented health professionals deserve to compete in state programs that help mitigate the cost of their training, especially when their licensing fees contribute to these very programs.  

“Right now, bright, qualified Californians are ready and willing to care for our most medically-underserved populations. This legislation clears a path for our communities’ aspiring health professionals to finance their dreams and help meet the cultural and linguistic needs of our state.”- Sarah de Guia, Executive Director, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network

"As an undocumented Californian from a medically underserved area, my dream is to become a passionate physician ready to improve and transform the health of our communities. SB1139 will get rid of one more barrier on my path to fulfilling my dream." - Yadira B., Pre-Health Dreamers
"Growing up as an undocumented Californian who was born and raised in Mexico to Chinese immigrant parents, I witnessed many inequalities that inspired me to pursue a career in medicine. As a first year medical student in California, SB1139 would further enable me to fulfill my commitment to address health disparities that plague many underserved communities." - Marcela Z., Med Dreamers