Unless a shutdown of the government is involved, we tend to pay little attention to news reports about the budget. But the decisions legislators make about spending have enormous consequences on our lives.

A good example is funds for the National Health Service Corps, which repays student loans for professionals working in certain areas where there is a shortage of providers, like community health centers.

This program is extremely important for CHCs. The centers offer tremendous learning opportunities for young health professionals. Many of them – doctors, nurses, social workers and others – come to Piedmont Health as part of practicums that are required, or strongly expected.

These young professionals learn a lot, and often are attracted by health centers’ caring environment, where providers can fully engage with patients and their families. CHCs provide medical homes for residents and offer high-quality health care regardless of ability to pay. For thousands of central North Carolina residents, CHCs are the right care at the right cost at the right place.

The young professionals fall in love with Piedmont and want to stay. Programs like the National Health Service Corps that repay state and federal loans make it possible for them to listen to their hearts.

Health-care professionals make a good living anywhere, including at Piedmont Health, but they have enormous expenses. It’s not unusual for doctors and dentists to start their career with $300,000 worth of loans to repay. The loans can require annual payments in excess of $30,000.

Programs like the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) can wipe that debt off the books. At Piedmont Health, we currently have 15 staff members who are taking part in loan repayment programs. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to keep these professionals if they were struggling to pay off loans while they see some of their peers earning $700,000 per year more than them.

For FY 2015, the president’s budget requests a total of $810 million for the NHSC, a $505 million increase over the $305 million provided by the mandatory Affordable Care Act NHSC Fund. These funds are desperately needed but, as I write this, the budget is far from resolved. Indeed, Congress is struggling to agree on even a resolution to keep the government running until they can agree on a budget.

Let’s hope there’s no shutdown, and let’s hope that Congress takes the time to focus in on programs like the National Health Service Corps that truly make a difference.

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