BOISE — The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which writes the state’s annual budget, was presented information on a 10-year plan to address Idaho’s chronic physician shortage.
Idaho has long faced a shortage of physicians, and state officials have in recent years begun providing additional funding for residency programs to get more doctors into the training pipeline in the hopes they will remain and practice in the Gem State.
Dr. Ted Epperly, president of the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho, gave an extended presentation Wednesday covering the 10-year plan. While his presentation didn’t address the “nuts and bolts” of proposed 2019 funding, budget documents suggest there will be a coming dispute over the level of funding for residency programs this year, including programs to be based in Idaho Falls and Blackfoot.
Epperly noted that Idaho ranks 49th out of the 50 states both in terms of the number of practicing physicians per capita and in terms of the number of medical graduates in residency programs. That means chronic health care provider shortages, particularly in the state’s more rural areas. And the shortage is likely to persist without action.
“We have a hole in Idaho, a hole that’s important for us to fill now, because this problem will not go away,” Epperly said.
The doctor pointed to studies suggesting most doctors end up practicing in close proximity to where they complete their residency; so residency expansion could help alleviate the shortage.
“If we have programs scattered across this state … it will start to populate in radiuses around those programs,” he said.
If the 10-year plan meets projections, he said, Idaho would move from 49th out of 50 to 41st.
Idaho has a number of state-funded residency programs, but the funding hasn’t reached much of eastern Idaho. This year, the State Board of Education recommended that change, with funding for residency programs in Idaho Falls and Blackfoot.
But Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter recommended a far lower level of funding for the eastern Idaho programs than was requested by the State Board of Education, according to JFAC’s budget book. The board requested $705,000 for residencies at rural and under-served sites under the auspices of Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, as well as $825,000 for a similar program focused on internal medicine, based out of Blackfoot.
Otter recommended only $405,000 for the Bonneville-based programs and $465,000 for the Bingham-based programs. In each case, that’s a more-than 40 percent reduction from the amount recommended by the Board of Education.
There are similar-sized reductions relative to the requests for a family physician residency based in Pocatello, Coeur d’Alene and Boise; a psychiatric residency program based in Boise; and an internal medicine residency based in Boise.
Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said the governor is committed the residency program’s expansion — a program he highlighted in the past two state of the state addresses — but he wants to seek outside advice on the proper funding level for a residency to ensure the program is operating efficiently.
EIRMC spokeswoman Coleen Niemann said she couldn’t get any information about the impact of the proposed reduction Wednesday. EIRMC officials told the Post Register last month that they hope to host 10 residents at the hospital soon, with a goal of hosting 30 by 2021.