California Clears Medical School Debt

As of 2019, the average medical school tuition is $34,592 per year for in-state students attending public schools. For out-of-state students and students attending private schools, the average tuition per year may be $50,000 or even more. With the cost of medical school tuition increasing every year, it is no surprise that many graduates are facing the heavy and demanding burden of paying off their loans and debts. Additionally, some may have loans from undergraduate degrees or other financial situations, producing an extremely high price to pay off. For the Class of 2018, medical students graduated with an average debt of $196,520, a significant increase from the Class of 2017, whose average debt was $190,694. 

However, there is some hope for a number of students, stemming from new policies in California. Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program, providing assistance for low-income individuals and families since 1965. As of January 2018, about a third of California’s population, 13.3 million people, were enrolled in this program. For physicians committed to serving Medi-Cal patients, California is paying off $58.6 million of their loans through the CalHealthCares Program. This program is open to healthcare providers (physicians or dentists), dental students, medical or dental residents, and fellows. It is funded by a $220 million allocation in California’s state budget allocation and a $120 million funding from Proposition 56, a $2 increase in tobacco taxes that was approved by voters in November 2016. CalHealthCares is run by the California Department of Health Care Services and a nonprofit organization, Physicians for Healthy California. 

In exchange for this generous financial award, recipients are expected to keep a patient caseload of at least 30% Medi-Cal patients for a five-year period. Of course, this means that the physician will have to practice in the state of California. This program has caused a win-win situation for both physicians and patients. Many Medi-Cal patients have been facing difficulties finding physicians to treat and care for them due to their payments not covering the cost of care. The shortage of primary care physicians for these patients will hopefully be relieved through this program. In addition to primary care physicians receiving this award, it has also been granted to a variety of specialists and covers physicians in 39 counties across California. 

The CalHealthCares Program began in 2018 and is expected to help both Californian physicians and patients. From the April 2019 application cycle, 127 physicians and 20 dentists were awarded after careful consideration of their applications and qualifications. The award is distributed depending on many factors, one of which is the verified loan balance at the time of application submission. Individuals that qualify and would appreciate the financial assistance are encouraged to apply, with the next application cycle coming up in January 2020. More information for those interested can be found at


Stephanie Chan