Thursday, November 8, 2012

Keep State-Dedicated Funds Dedicated

David Wright, MD, chair of the Texas Medical Association’s Council on Medical Education, asked lawmakers to support using the funds they collect for the Texas Physician  Education Loan Repayment Program and trauma funding for their intended purpose — rather than scooping up the funds for other purposes, leaving these programs underfunded. “Texas’ physician loan repayment program has been one of our most valuable and successful tools for recruiting and retaining physicians in our most underserved areas of the state,” explained Dr. Wright. “Without these important funds, young doctors simply could not afford to go to areas of the state where 80 to 90 percent of their patient population depends on government funding, such as Medicaid and Medicare.” Medicaid doesn’t cover physicians’ cost to provide the care, and Medicare could get worse soon with looming Medicare meltdown cuts of 27 percent.

Dr. Wright testified before the House Committee on General Revenue Dedicated Accounts yesterday on why funding designated for the Texas Physician Education Loan Repayment Program should be restored. He also pointed out an often overlooked factor: Once young doctors practice in a community like Paris or Alpine, Texas, for four years, they often make it their home. That community now has a doctor and a small business. “This is critically important for attracting other businesses, keeping hospitals open and school districts viable,” said Dr. Wright.  The loan repayment program was among the hardest hit during the 2011 session, with a loss of 78 percent of funding. As a result, no new applications have been accepted this biennium. At the same time, revenues designated for the program from the smokeless tobacco tax continue to accrue, with an estimated $30 million in Account 5144 in FY 2012.

In closing, Dr. Wright said, “The bottom line is that both the Physician Education Loan Repayment Program and designated trauma facility and EMS funds are important funding streams to improve access to critical health care.”



Adrian Billings, MD, says that a federal physician repayment program allowed him to care for the underserved in rural Alpine without worrying about debt or loans. “That's what has allowed me to go back to Alpine debt-free and see everybody regardless of their ability to repay, because I don't have loans to repay,” he says.

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