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Senate OKs medical school tuition payback bill

Alex Proimos

Idahoans hoping to become doctors through a regional program could have to practice medicine here after residency. If they don’t, they may have to pay back government subsidies.

Since Idaho doesn’t have its own public med school, it’s part of what’s called the WWAMI program. The acronym stands for the first letter of each participating state: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming.

Students complete their first two years of med school at University of Idaho. They then finish clinical rotations here, or in any of the five participating states.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Robert Blair (R-Kendrick), would require students to pay back their subsidized tuition if they don’t return to the state after earning their medical license.

“This helps give Idaho a better chance of getting good doctors into our medical pipeline and back to those rural areas,” Blair said Tuesday.

New doctors would have to practice in Idaho for four years to avoid that penalty, which could total up to $120,000. Each year of a student’s residency completed in Idaho would knock off half a year of the requirement to practice here.

Three other states in the WWAMI programs have similar requirements, Blair said.

More than half of WWAMI graduates choose to practice in Idaho, well above the national average of 39%.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking (D-Boise) worries the bill will have a chilling effect in a state with a severe doctor shortage.

“People will choose not to apply or prospective medical students may not come to Idaho,” Ward-Engelking said.

As of 2018, Idaho had the fewest number of physicians per capita in the country.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin cast the tie-breaking vote in a deadlocked Senate to approve the measure.

The bill passed the House earlier this month, but it still needs the governor’s signature to become law.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!

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