Med school funding bill advances

Sen. John Valentine, R-Utah, is the co-sponsor of SB 42, which would accept more students into the U’s School of Medicine. Spencer Sandstrom / The Daily Utah Chronicle
Sen. John Valentine, R-Utah, is the co-sponsor of SB 42, which would accept more students into the U’s School of Medicine.
Spencer Sandstrom / The Daily Utah Chronicle

IN PROGRESS SB 42 proposes allocated funds be used to in- crease admission and number of primary physicians in Utah

A bill proposing to allocate $10 million from the Utah Education Fund to the U’s School of Medicine was advanced by the House Health and Human Services Committee late Wednesday evening.
SB 42 proposes the ongoing allocation of funds to go into effect July 1. The funds will be used to increase admission at the medical school by 40 seats per class. The school currently admits 82 students per year, a number that Rep. Michael Kennedy, R-Alpine, called “ashamedly small.”
The end goal of the bill is to increase the number of primary physicians serving in Utah. The original draft required that 80 percent of admitted students each year demonstrate strong ties to Utah. On Wednesday, the committee voted to substitute in a new version of the bill that more clearly defines this requirement.
In the new draft, students must have graduated from a Utah high school or institution of higher education to demonstrate this tie. The committee also upped the percentage of admitted applicants that must meet these requirements from 80 to 82.
They voted to increase the percentage after they realized they would be left with a slot for six-tenths of a student, as 80 percent of 122 is 97.6 seats. Current admissions standards require that 100 students admitted to the medical school each year meet the educational parameters referencing their ties to Utah.
Though the committee was in favor of increasing enrollment at the medical school, there was also considerable concern about the steep $10 million tab the bill proposes.
Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Davis, was particularly concerned about the financial burden the bill imposes and wanted to know exactly where the allocated funds will go. President David Pershing explained that while $1.5 million will go toward constructing new lab space, the majority of the funds will go toward hiring the faculty needed to teach the 160 additional students added to the school’s total enrollment.
Barlow proposed the medical school meet their own funding needs by increasing tuition, since the school’s tuition is far less than the national average. But Pershing was adamant the current tuition of about $30, 000 be maintained.
“The downside of that is many Utah students can’t afford that … I don’t really think that’s a good idea for us as a state,” Pershing said.
Higher tuition costs often force medical students to enter specialized fields that offer higher salaries, so they can pay off their student debt. Pershing argued raising tuition would perpetuate the lack of primary caregivers in rural areas of Utah, which is one of the problems the bill hopes to solve.
Despite concerns, the bill headed out of the committee with a favorable recommendation. Several representatives spoke in support of the bill, including Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, a graduate of the U medical school.
Redd pointed out the funds will help the U provide the intense medical education and training that molds the best physicians.
“The intensity of the experience has to be such,” Redd said. “If you don’t have an intense experience … you will never be as good of a physician as you might have been … they require a lot of resources to make them that way.”
The bill is headed to the House Rules Committee because of its fiscal impact.