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Tough times for teaching hospitals

Oh, who needs doctors, anyway?

Texas teaching hospitals are bracing for a big hit in the federal deficit-reduction plans under consideration, just a few weeks after the state Legislature slashed funding to the same doctor-training programs.

The cuts will exacerbate a crisis in which Texas, ranked 42nd in the number of physicians per population, loses potential doctors because the state doesn’t have enough residency slots to train the medical students it pays to educate.

“There’s a perfect storm forming in Texas — a growing, aging population, an increase in students and, now more than ever, a decrease in residency slots,” said Dr. Kenneth Shine, the University of Texas System’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs. “The impact of the state cuts and likely federal cuts pose a grave threat to our ability to provide health care to all Texans.”

Congressional proposals, still in flux, would cut Texas’ doctor-training funding by 60 percent. State cuts, passed earlier this month, will reduce the funding of one doctor-training program by 74 percent and another by 30 percent. Together, they’d cost Texas about $165 million of the $306 million it currently gets in government funding to train new doctors.

The cuts loom six months after Texas officials expressed concern that the state was losing 45 percent of its medical school graduates to out-of-state residencies, in part because its residency-to-graduate ratio is less than 1-1 — far below, say, New York’s 3-1 ratio. The Texas ratio will get significantly worse under the cuts.

And here I thought tort “reform” was going to solve all of our doctor shortage problems. Seriously, I cannot see how this is a good idea. We’re not doing this because we’re trying to control a long-term cost that we expect to grow at an unmanageable rate. We’re doing it because as with most of the other budget cuts we’re doing or may be doing, the constituency that is affected by them has less power than certain other constituencies, none of which are being made to “sacrifice” in any meaningful way. We’re not doing what’s smart or what’s fair, we’re doing what’s left to do after a whole range of other options are taken off the table.

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One Comment

  1. Jessica says:

    Kuff,
    I hope posts like yours will bring attention to this problem! Our local medical schools (UT Health Science Center, Baylor College of Medicine to name just 2) make huge contributions to our local economy, not just in government dollars, but the money those trainees spend to set up household in Houston and then live here with their families. And, fewer doctors coming into the profession just when our population is growing is downright foolish. Yes, we need to cut spending, but this isn’t the right place to do it.