SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California will pay off $58.6 million in student loans for 247 physicians who have committed to serve more people covered by Medi-Cal.

The doctors agreed to ensure that Medi-Cal patients represent 30 percent of their caseload for five years, the Sacramento Bee reported Friday .

"By removing the burden of student loan debt, this program will encourage more providers to make different choices when entering the health care market and be able to provide care for the Medi-Cal population," said Jennifer Kent, director of the Department of Health Care Services, the agency administering the loan repayment program.

Medi-Cal patients have long complained that they struggle to find primary care providers who are willing to accept the amount California pays. They say the payments don't cover the entire cost of care.

More than 13 million state residents get medical coverage through Medi-Cal. Many live in areas with a shortage of primary care physicians.

Health department officials said doctors receiving help with loans are practicing in 40 areas of medicine, from pediatrics to psychiatry, in 39 different counties.

Nearly 1,300 providers applied for the CalHealthCares loan repayment program, which is being funded by an allocation in the state budget and by a $2 increase in tobacco taxes that went into effect in 2017.

Each grant covers up to $300,000 in loans taken out for medical or dental school. Dental award winners will be announced later this summer.