Med school is the right move for Idaho

By Sen. Marv Hagedorn, Sen. Jim Rice and Rep. Kelley Packer

On Feb. 25, Idaho’s first medical school was announced. It will be built with only private investment. The Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine (ICOM) will be located in Meridian on Idaho State University’s Meridian campus. This school answers needs that have been identified in access to health care in Idaho, including addressing our physician shortage and medical education deficiencies, as well as providing a positive economic impact.

Physician shortage: Idaho currently ranks 49th in the nation for physicians per capita. This problem will get significantly worse if we do not address it now. Forty-five percent of our Idaho physicians are 55-65 years of age. Though no one knows for sure when those physicians plan to retire, a large exodus from our physician population is likely. This would create a critical situation with our access to health care. As legislators, with two of us serving on the board of the Idaho Health Insurance Exchange, we see the struggles of Idahoans trying to meet the health care needs of their families while dealing with the added stresses to their budgets of increasing costs and expensive federal mandates. The problem is made worse by a shortage of doctors.

Medical education deficiencies: Because we haven’t had a medical school in Idaho, our students have had a much more difficult time getting into medical school than those from other states. Last year, 63 percent of our fully qualified, Idaho students who applied to medical school did not get accepted — 117 Idaho students who wanted to further their education and wanted to become doctors were not given the opportunity to meet that goal. On average, over the past 10 years, about 69 percent of the fully qualified Idaho students did not get accepted to medical school.

Economic needs: This school will have a positive impact on our economy. It has been proven that when a state has a medical school, you see additional economic growth with pharmaceutical companies, durable and non-durable medical equipment companies, medical technology companies and increased opportunities for research in the health care industry. This will not only increase the number of jobs in our state, but more importantly, the number of high-paying jobs. There will be increased revenue to our state because of this growth, which will help us meet the needs for education, transportation, corrections and other important state responsibilities.

Unfortunately, within hours of the announcement, some special interest voices began opposing having a medical school. Whenever we solve problems, there are those who will complain and oppose the changes. But our first priority must always be meeting the needs of Idahoans, regardless of the opposition.

Building a medical school in Idaho is a critical part of the solution, though not the only part. In 2022 we will need to have residencies available for graduates. ICOM has committed to put significant funds toward meeting this need. ICOM and its investors have committed to Idaho. We encourage our fellow legislators to join with us to build adequate residency programs in Idaho. With the commitment and investment of community and state leaders, we will succeed in increasing the number of doctors in Idaho, increasing medical education opportunities for Idaho students and improving our economy.

We cannot take counsel from the fears of those who doubt. Now is the time to work and to build. Those who fail to try, fail every time. We are committed to not only stand up for Idaho, but to work for her bright future.

This column was written by Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian (208-867-5643), Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell (208-891-4178), and Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon (208-241-3350).