Dunleavy administration admits error used to justify medical school cut

It’s been clear for a month that the Dunleavy administration used a flawed statistic to try to justify elimination of a program that helps Alaskans attend medical school and has been vital in attracting doctors to practice in the 49th state.

Alaska, which does not have a medical school, provides a subsidy for 20 Alaskans to attend medical school each year via the University of Washington, with training that starts in Anchorage.

But the governor’s office falsely claimed in February that the number of doctors returning to Alaska from the five-state medical venture known as WWAMI has dropped sharply. The letters stand for the participation by Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

“From calendar year 2014 through calendar year 2018, the percent of graduates practicing in Alaska has decreased from 84 percent to 61 percent,” the state said.

“The WWAMI program has not proven effective at meeting the demand for new physicians, despite a significant state investment over the years,” the governor’s office falsely claimed. “Diminishing returns of this program are not sustainable in the current fiscal environment.”

As I wrote here a month ago, it took me 10 minutes to discover that the statistic in the so-called “Honest Budget” was incorrect.

In a letter to the House Finance Committee last week, temporary budget director Donna Arduin acknowledged the mistake.

But her explanation differed from the analysis presented to the Senate Finance Committee Monday by Dr. Suzanne Allen, a vice dean of the University of Washington School of Medicine. The state misinterpreted the data, she said.

She said that 61 percent of Alaskans return to Alaska to practice, while students from other WWAMI states also come to Alaska to practice, which raises the return on investment to the state.

“When we look at the difference between return on investment and return rates, that accounts for the discrepancy in the percentiles that the administration previously focused on, stating that WWAMI was not meeting its mission,” she said.

Of the 226 active state loans to WWAMI participants, 77 percent are in Alaska.

The so-called Honest Budget falsely claimed, “Only half of WWAMI borrowers are physicians practicing in Alaska and the percent of graduates practicing in Alaska continues to decrease.”

Eleven percent of Alaska doctors are graduates of the program there are 80 Alaskans currently attending medical school through WWAMI. Through the state support, the students pay in-state tuition at the University of Washington, which is $35,000 per year.

If they don’t return to Alaska after their education to practice medicine, they pay back 50 percent of what the state contributed to allow them to qualify for in-state tuition.


(If you want to contribute financially to this Alaska reporting project, you can do so here through PayPal. Or write to me the old-fashioned way: Dermot Cole, Box 10673, Fairbanks, AK 99710-0673.)

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