Graduates who work in underserved areas to treat those struggling with addiction are eligible to have some of their student loan debt repaid.
The High Cost of Education
For individuals who want to get an advanced degree in a mental health field, the associated costs can be staggering.
Many students resort to student loans, so much so that the overall amount of student debt has risen sharply in the U.S. In terms of private debt, student loan debt is second only to mortgage debt in the country.
Student loan debt has steadily increased as college tuition has increased. In the first three months of 2019, overall student loan debt in the United States rose to approximately $1.49 trillion. This is more than the total amount of credit card debt or auto loan debt in the United States.
Here are some additional facts about student loan debt in the U.S.:
- The average amount of student loan debt per person is $31,172.
- Currently, overall student loan debt totals $1.52 trillion.
- The average monthly student loan payment for college graduates is around $393.
- The timeline to pay off student loan debt ranges from 10 to 30 years.
- There are about 44.7 million student loan borrowers in the country.
Incentives for Addiction Counselors
In recent years, legislators in Colorado have been concerned with the rising number of drug overdoses and the overall opioid epidemic. As a result, they have provided incentives to licensed addiction counselors and treatment specialists to work in underserved areas.
In 2018, Colorado state lawmakers made revisions to the Colorado Health Service Corps Program to allow specific health care professionals, including those who treat substance abuse, to be eligible for student loan payment.
The incentive is a grant payment that is tax-free and can be applied to student loan debt. The grant would be in addition to hourly wages or annual salaries. Ultimately, this incentive is designed to get addiction treatment specialists into areas of need (underserved areas).
There are some specific obligations that individuals in these grant repayment programs must fulfill. The workload may be a bit more than one would encounter in another type of setting.
To get the grant, the bulk of your time must be spent in direct patient contact. This means face-to-face, one-on-one sessions with patients. You must also make a three-year commitment to the program.
If you earned a certified addiction counselor credential, and you are able to make a commitment to work for at least three years in substance use disorder treatment, you could qualify for grants of up to $20,000 tax-free that can pay your student loans.
If you earned an advanced licensed addiction counselor credential and are able to commit to three years of treating substance use disorders, you could earn up to $50,000 tax-free to repay your student loans.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, you could be eligible to receive a repayment of student loans if you practice in an area with a shortage of health professionals, delivering your services to people who are in underserved areas.
You must accept public insurance, and you must offer low-income patients or uninsured patients discounted services. You would need to be employed at an approved site during the first day of the application cycle.
You have to be providing behavioral health, dental, mental health, or medical care in face-to-face and one-on-one encounters. This means no telehealth or telemedicine services qualify for the grant. All treatment must be deemed medically necessary.
What Other Health Professionals Qualify?
The following professions can qualify for student loan repayments:
- Family medicine doctors, geriatric physicians, general internal medicine doctors, adult and child psychiatrists, pediatricians, obstetricians and oncologists, addiction medicine doctors, and pain management physicians
- Clinical pharmacists.
- Licensed clinical social workers
- Licensed marriage counselors (master’s degree or above)
- Licensed counseling or clinical psychologists
- Nurse practitioners or advanced practice nurses with specific training in substance abuse or pain management
- Physician assistants (PA) and PAs with specialized training in addiction medicine
- Psychiatric nurse specialists
- Dental hygienists
The Amounts of the Awards
The amounts for fulltime professionals are:
- $90,000 for dentists and physicians.
- $50,000 for licensed addiction counselors, physician assistants, clinical pharmacists, other licensed mental health providers, and advanced practice nurses.
- $20,000 for certified addiction counselors and dental hygienists.
For those working part-time at an approved facility, the award amounts are:
- $45,000 for dentists and physicians.
- $25,000 for license mental health care providers, license addiction counselors, clinical pharmacists, advanced practical nurses, and physician assistants.
- $10,000 for certified addiction counselors and dental hygienists.
Are There Any Catches?
Yes, there are specific requirements. In order to qualify for the loan repayment grant:
- You have to work for a minimum of three years at the approved location.
- You must work a minimum amount of clinical contact hours. This is the time you are actually seeing patients.
- You must meet the hourly requirements established in the contract throughout the entire obligation.
- Only federal or private commercial loans that were taken out for education qualify.
- You must be licensed when you apply for the repayment grant. You cannot have any conditions placed on you as a result of a disciplinary action by a licensing board.
What Are the Hourly Requirements?
The hourly requirements cover preventive interventions or medically necessary treatment. Qualifying visits must be in-person, one-on-one sessions or group sessions.
The full-service obligation requires that you work 40 hours a week year-round, with a minimum of 32 hours per week of direct face-to-face contact.
The part-time obligation requires at least 20 hours per week year-round, with at least 16 hours per week of face-to-face sessions.
Can I Apply Now?
The next round of applications will be accepted from March 1st to March 31st, 2020.
Visit the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s website for more information. They outline specific instructions for applying to the grant program.