Widening health-care access

The Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation has awarded $10 million to a program that places health-care providers in rural and economically North Carolina communities.

The grant was awarded to the Community Practitioner Program, an initiative of the North Carolina Medical Society Foundation.

The program pays up to half the medical -ducation debt of health-care professionals in return for five years of service in rural or distressed areas.

Those practitioners primarily serve Medicaid and Medicare patients, the uninsured, people who do not speak English and others who have difficulty finding health care they can afford.

The Medical Society Foundation will use the grant, as well as an additional $5 million it plans to raise in matching funds, to create an endowment to support the program.

Over the next five years, the foundations estimate the investment will generate an additional $50 million in heath care for struggling communities, boost the number of physicians to 160 from 100, and increase the number of patient visits to 700,000 a year from 400,000.

Established in 1989, the program has placed almost 350 health-care providers in 126 communities, providing medical care valued at $226 million to the uninsured.

Of the providers participating in the program, almost three in four remain in struggling communities beyond their five-year service period.

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