$12 million in state tobacco taxes to improve health care in the Valley

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Dr. Michelle Galeon is one of two dentists to receive the CalHealthCares grant in Fresno. It's one of two programs designed to attract more doctors and dentists to underserved areas across central California.

Friday, state leaders announced a total of $12 million from state tobacco taxes would go to improving health care in the Central Valley.

"With half of the population in the Central Valley served by medical...this is a major issue in our region," said Senator Melissa Hurtado.

As a grant recipient, Dr. Galeon will help the community by taking on more MediCal patients who need access to care, and in exchange, be cleared of most of her student debt.

"I graduated with very high student loan debt, over $400,000. This loan program allows me to pay back the majority of my student loan debt," Dr. Galeon said.

Recipients of the award will receive a part of the grant every year for five years to help pay back their loans. $4.8 million was awarded this year to Fresno to physicians and dentists, where more than 30 percent of their patients will have MediCal. Additional funding for the program will be announced in the spring.

"I was planning to pay out of pocket, honestly very stressful. It relieved a lot of stress. Now can I just think about my patients. It's been a big change," Dr. Galeon said.
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