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Senator Richard Codey congratulates Congressman Donald Norcross on his succession to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Aims to Address Shortage of Mental Health Care Access, Encourage Professionals to Practice in Underserved Areas

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Richard J. Codey, a leading advocate for mental health reform in New Jersey, and Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee chairman Joseph F. Vitale that would establish a tuition reimbursement program for psychiatrists to address a shortage of mental health care access in certain underserved areas of the State cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.

“Mental health is at the core of a functioning society, and providing mental health care services to those who need it, when they need it and where they need it is a moral obligation,” said Senator Codey (D-Essex and Morris). “This bill would put in place a tuition reimbursement program to incentivize a surge in available psychiatrists in New Jersey’s most underserved areas.”

Under the bill, S-2331, the Commissioner of Health would designate, on the basis of health status and economic indicators, geographic areas of the state which have a shortage of physicians in the specialty of psychiatry. The program would provide reimbursement of a portion of medical school tuition expenses to psychiatrists who agree to provide mental health care services in one of these State underserved areas for a period of one to four years.

“We cannot ignore the shortage of mental health specialists and psychiatrists in certain areas of our state, which leaves vulnerable individuals without the care they need,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “By connecting those who require treatment in areas of high need with those who provide the critically-needed service, the tuition reimbursement program created under this bill will prove to be a win-win.”

Program participants would be required to: (1) be State residents; (2) be State-licensed physicians who have completed all educational and residency training requirements for the practice of psychiatry; and (3) apply for the program within one year of completing an accredited residency program in psychiatry.

Under the bill, program participants would enter into a contract with the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) for a specified number of one-year periods of service, up to four years, in which they agree to engage in the full-time practice of psychiatry in a State underserved area.  In return for this commitment, a portion of the participant’s tuition expenses in attending medical school would be reimbursed.

Tuition reimbursement would equal 25 percent of the participant’s eligible tuition expenses for the one academic year of medical school attendance in which tuition was the lowest, in return for each full year of service under the program. The maximum total tuition reimbursement for a participant for four years of service would be 100 percent of the participant’s eligible tuition expenses for the one academic year of medical school attendance in which tuition was the lowest.

Under the bill, participants in the program would be required to adhere to certain terms and standards, including charging for professional services at the usual and customary rates, allowing patients who are unable to pay that charge to pay a reduced rate or receive care at no charge, and not discriminating against any patient on the basis of ability to pay.  Participants would also be required to maintain their State residency and medical license, remain current with payments on any student loans, maintain satisfactory performance of services, and report to HESAA on the performance of services rendered prior to receiving tuition reimbursement.

The bill was approved by the committee by a vote of 13-0. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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