Senators Murkowski and Hassan introduce bipartisan bill to grow addiction care workforce through student loan debt relief program

Washington (KINY) – Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize and double the Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Loan Repayment Program, which provides student loan repayment for healthcare workers who focus on addiction treatment and recovery in underserved areas.

This program, which Senators Murkowski and Hassan helped create, is a key part of helping recruit a strong healthcare workforce of physicians, nurses, social workers, and mental health workers to combat the opioid epidemic, but authorization for the program expired on Sept. 30.

This legislation would reauthorize the program, double its authorization from $25 to $50 million, and also make the loan payments tax-exempt, bringing it in line with similar programs like the National Health Service Corps and the Perkins Loan programs.

“We see healthcare workforce shortages across the board, especially for substance use disorder treatment specialists,” said Senator Murkowski. “This isn’t just an issue in our rural communities – Alaskans in urban centers are experiencing challenges in accessing care as well, requiring travel out of state for treatment or prolonged time spent in emergency rooms due to the lack of providers. When people in crisis are ready to seek help, services need to be available. This legislation will reduce barriers to training and education, and help bolster our treatment and recovery services in the fight against the opioid epidemic.”

The STAR Loan Repayment Reauthorization Act of 2023 would reauthorize and expand a program that was first created through the SUPPORT Act – a landmark investment into substance misuse prevention, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement efforts. Projections from last year showed that there will be a shortage of 24,060 behavioral health providers by 2030.