The Western News: Tester introduces new legislation to lure health-care specialists to Libby

Sen. Jon Tester introduced legislation Monday that would expand the type of health-care providers eligible for student loan forgiveness and scholarships under the Public Health Service Act in an effort to lure much-needed health-care specialists to Libby.

“As it is right now, it’s unprecedented what’s going on in Libby and this will open new doors for folks to make sure that Libby gets the health-care providers and the health care that they deserve,” Tester said.

The National Health Service Corps recruits health-care specialists for underserved areas through scholarships and loan forgiveness, but it currently only applies to those in primary care, dentistry and mental health. Speciality care providers, which are needed to serve a population with lung diseases, are not eligible.

The bill would expand the act to include specialists related to the health needs of people affected by an environmental exposure that has led to a public health emergency. Because the Libby-area Superfund site is the first-ever to be declared an environmental public health emergency, Libby is the only place that the new legislation would apply to at least initially.

The Center for Asbestos Related Disease has struggled in recent years with only one doctor, Brad Black, and an increasing number of patients, according to CARD outreach coordinator Tanis Hernandez. Increased medical benefits for patients who suffer from asbestos-related disease has caused the number of screenings CARD performs to increase exponentially, yet the clinic is unable to attract another clinician to help with the workload.

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