Dread paying the bill after a trip to the dentist? Dental school graduates may have it worse: their student loans.
“I’m looking between $100,000 to $150,000 [of debt],” said UF dental student Ioanna Borissova.
And that’s not including interest.
The average dental student graduates with more than $261,000 worth of debt, according to the American Dental Education Association.
But some Florida legislators want to help students like Borissova pay off that debt faster.
State lawmakers are trying again this year to create a loan forgiveness program for recent dental school graduates.
Here’s how their proposed loan forgiveness program would work:
- Graduates must work at a public health program. That means a county health department, the Children’s Medical Services program, a federally funded community health center, a federally funded migrant health center or other publicly funded or nonprofit health care program designated by the health department.
- The public health program must be in a medically underserved area that serves a high number of low income and Medicaid patients or be designated as a Dental Health Professional Shortage Area.
- Up to $50,000 of their loans per year for up to five years could be forgiven.
“By providing this “500 Loan” program and repayment option, it gives our newly graduating students an incentive to continue to treat all Floridians,” said Dr. Bert Hughes, dentist and owner of Family and Cosmetic Dentistry.
The same program was passed by the house and senate last year but was vetoed by Governor Rick Scott.
“Maintaining good oral health is integral to the overall health of Florida families,” Scott said in his veto letter at the time. But he added he couldn’t “support a program that does not place appropriate safeguards on taxpayer investments.”
This time around, lawmakers lowered the maximum yearly repayment rate from $100,000 to $50,000 in hopes of the governor approving it.
“We think we can demonstrate that the state actually does better when people get adequate healthcare, particularly dental care,” said one of the bill’s authors, State Senator Aaron Bean. “So we’re working on a model now that will show why it’s in the state’s best interest to do this.”
Bean said they’re still in talks with the governor and are willing to negotiate on the amount students can be reimbursed if the program will be approved this time around.
Borissova said this program would allow her to do what she loves: helping others.
“It would be a great honor to have help from the state legislature to help students have the ability to practice and give back and do the work they love without having any stress about debt.”