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New federal grants could mean more primary doctors in MN's underserved areas

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The federal government says it's providing $6.6 million in incentive dollars to Minnesota doctors and nurses to increase the number of primary care providers in the state.   

Through the federal stimulus and health care laws, 120 health care workers in Minnesota will receive tax-free $60,000 awards for serving two years in communities with limited access to health care.  

As MPR has reported in its Ground Level series "Rural Health Care Under Pressure," Greater Minnesota is coping with numerous health care challenges, not just a provider shortage. (Read the series here.)

National health care reform has forced expensive record-keeping changes. Greater reliance on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement makes rural providers vulnerable. Rural residents also tend to be older and poorer, and are less likely to have insurance and suffer more chronic illness. 

The new grants come through an agency called the National Health Service Corps, which has awarded $900 million nationally in scholarships and student loan payoffs to expand the country's primary care workforce.

Founded in 1972, the NHSC focuses on placing health care providers in urban and rural areas where more coverage is needed. To date, it says it has 10,000 clinicians and more than 17,000 sites around the country serving more than 10.5 million people.