Budget panel boosts medical education funding


BOISE — In an effort to boost the number of doctors who practice in Idaho, the joint budget committee approved a 20 percent, $3.1 million increase in graduate medical education programs Tuesday.

The move, which passed on a 17-2 vote, allocates nearly $1 million more than the governor included in his budget recommendation.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, noted that Idaho ranks 49th in the nation for the number of doctors per 100,000 residents, and 46th nationally for the number of primary-care physicians.

Medical school graduates must undergo additional training in residency programs before they can practice independently. Studies suggest nearly 50 percent of residents will stay to practice within 100 miles of their training location.

Consequently, the 2019 health education budget creates two new residency programs, with 22 total residencies, in conjunction with Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls and the Idaho Physicians Clinic in Blackfoot. It also adds three residencies in Idaho State University’s pharmacy program and boosts state funding for 126 existing residencies.

The budget reflects the recommendation of a gubernatorial working group, which last year proposed a 10-year, $16.3 million plan to increase the number of residency and fellowship training slots in Idaho from 141 to 356 by 2028.

The State Board of Education unanimously recommended approval of the plan in December; however, the governor only included partial funding for it in his budget recommendation.

Horman said more urgency is needed, particularly since the newest medical program in the nation, the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, will start offering classes this year.

“That’s 150 doctors we can try and retain here in Idaho if we start preparing now,” she said. “We know residencies are a better predictor of where they’ll end up practicing.”

On the medical education side, the joint budget committee approved $87,600 to add two seats for Idaho students to the University of Utah medical education program, and $802,200 for the WWAMI medical education program at the University of Idaho in Moscow.

The total 2019 health education budget would be $19 million, which includes $18.7 million in state general fund support. The House and Senate still need to vote on the budget.

In other action Tuesday, the budget committee:

• Approved a $46.1 million general fund budget for community colleges. That’s a $6.7 million, 17.1 percent increase over the current year. The bulk of that is for the newly created College of Eastern Idaho in Idaho Falls.

• Approved a one-time, $3 million payment from the Permanent Building Fund to the University of Idaho’s Agricultural Research and Extension Service to construct a nuclear seed potato facility in Moscow.

The facility would support continued and expanded research regarding potatoes, garlic, mint, hops and other crops. The state funding would be matched by $2.6 million in private funding.