Tester introduces bill to recruit health specialists to Libby

HELPS Act attracts needed caregivers to Public Health Emergency areas

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester’s newest legislation aims to recruit much-needed health specialists to underserved communities that are considered Public Health Emergencies, such as Libby, Mont.

Tester’s Health Emergencies Lack Provider Specialists (HELPS) Act would open up scholarships and student loan assistance to certified primary care specialists who commit at least two years to serving in such areas.

After years of widespread deaths and illness linked to exposure to deadly asbestos fibers at the now defunct W.R. Grace mine in Libby, Mont., the community was declared a Public Health Emergency last summer.  The community is facing increasing difficulty attracting specialists to address illnesses related to asbestos exposure such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung disease. 

“Senator Tester is opening a door for healthcare specialists who would otherwise have a tough time locating to a rural community like Libby,” said Dr. Brad Black, Director of the Center for Asbestos Related Disease in Libby.  “The high costs of medical training can often keep these folks away from rural areas.  This bill is a win-win that would encourage healthcare specialists to come and help address our community’s unique challenges while also creating great new opportunities for medical professionals to help an underserved population alongside leading doctors and researchers.”

The National Health Service Corps currently helps recruit health care providers to areas—commonly in rural and frontier America—with shortages of health professionals.  However, scholarship and student loan repayment assistance are available only to general practitioners—not specialists.

Tester says he wrote his legislation after hearing from Libby residents and health care providers.

“I’m proud of the progress we’re making getting the folks in Libby the help they need, but there’s more work to be done,” Tester said.  “The next step is recruiting specialists to provide the specific care needed for the families who’ve been impacted by asbestos exposure.  This legislation takes a big step forward in providing that care.”

“This is good news.  The folks in Libby deserve the best care around—and with asbestos related diseases, that sometimes means specialists,” said Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “The people of Libby are very close to my heart, and I’m committed to making sure the town is cleaned up and that every person has access to quality health care so they can get back to their lives.”

Specialists would have to be certified by the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary as being needed in the emergency area and would work alongside the primary care providers, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, or mental health care providers who are already participants in the National Health Service Corps.

Tester’s HELPS Act is available online at tester.senate.gov/Libby.