Austin family physician tells lawmakers to
restore funding to physician education
loan repayment program
David Wright, M.D., faculty physician and clerkship director at the UT Southwestern Family Medicine Residency Program in Austin, testified before the House Committee on General Revenue and Dedicated Accounts at the state capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 7, asking lawmakers to ensure that funds dedicated to special purposes, like the physician education loan repayment program and trauma funding, are actually spent for those purposes. Lawmakers often raid such dedicated funds when the state budget is tight, which happened to the loan repayment program last session.
The loan repayment program was redesigned in 2009, when lawmakers changed the way the state applies its excise tax on smokeless tobacco and dedicated the expected increase in revenue to repaying up to $160,000 in a qualified physician’s educational debt in return for four years of practice in an underserved community.
“Of any program right now that we have trying to service conduits to get primary care physicians into rural Texas, this is our best program,” Wright told the committee, adding that in the short time it was operational, about 170 physicians set up practices in health professional shortage areas through the program.
In 2011, lawmakers passed a budget that cut the program’s funding from $23.3 million to $5.6 million, and the program stopped accepting new applicants.
Wright said that the large amount of debt physicians incur while in medical school and residency training causes many to choose more lucrative specialties than those in primary care. Add to that other economic difficulties of practicing in rural and border communities, and it’s no wonder Texans in those areas struggle to obtain access to primary care services.
“But with this opportunity as a way to help pay off [a physician’s] indebtedness at the time that you’re practicing and developing a practice is critically important. This is probably our best recruitment tool for rural communities,” Wright said.