The Spokesman-Review - JFAC sets graduate medical ed budget, exceeds governor’s proposal, but short of request for 10-year plan

Legislative budget writers today approved a boost in funding for medical residencies in Idaho next year, exceeding Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendation, but stopping well short of a larger boost requested as part of a new 10-year plan from the state Board of Education for graduate medical education in Idaho. “This is a much more incremental approach,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who proposed the successful budget motion; it was seconded by Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, and crafted by a working group that also included Reps. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, and Phylis King, D-Boise. “Given that we have the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine opening this year, we felt it was better to get an incremental start, rather than postponing until next year a very large expense.”

The proposal was approved by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on a 17-2 vote, with just Sens. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, and Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, dissenting; the two had proposed a competing motion to just adopt the governor’s proposal.

The successful budget motion would add 25 residencies, and move up state funding for some residencies from $30,000 per year to $35,000 per year; the 10-year plan proposed moving the state’s share up to $60,000 a year, as part of a public-private partnership in which the state would pay one-third of the cost of residencies.

The 10-year plan was aimed at producing 2,000 new physicians in Idaho over the next decade. Without any increase, just 520 would be trained through residencies over that period. It called for spending $5 million more on residency training next year, with smaller increases in each of the next nine years. The governor recommended an increase of around $1 million next year; lawmakers settled on an increase of just under $2 million.

Idaho ranks 49th among the 50 states for both its number of doctors per capita, and its number of medical residents per capita. Because doctors tend to put down roots and practice where they do their residencies, increasing residencies in Idaho is viewed as a prime way to boost Idaho’s numbers of doctors.

Plus, with the state’s first medical school, ICOM, a private, for-profit school opening this year, Idaho will be producing 150 medical school graduates a year in the future, and without more residency slots in the state, those Idaho graduates will be forced to move elsewhere to do their residencies.

“We know that residencies are a better predictor of where physicians will practice than even where they attend medical school,” Horman said. She said her proposal would “get us started on the 10-year path, and hopefully not be too far behind on the goal to increase the residents and physicians in Idaho.”

The budget bill still needs passage in the House and Senate and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely change after they’re set by the 20-member joint committee.