AMA Looks at Ways to Cut Med Student Debt

If Congress decides that some form of universal health coverage should be a part of an overall healthcare reform package, many healthcare experts are predicting that the already existing shortage of primary care doctors could become a crisis. Shouldering much of the blame for the shortfall is the crushing debt that medical students incur.

If Congress decides that some form of universal health coverage should be a part of an overall healthcare reform package, many healthcare experts are predicting that the already existing shortage of primary care doctors could become a crisis. Shouldering much of the blame for the shortfall is the crushing debt that medical students incur, which leads them to opt for better-paying specialties rather than a lower-income primary care practice. The average debt for a graduate from a public medical school was $115,651 in 2007, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, up from $75,068 in 2000. Private school graduates owed an average $143,788 when they left school in 2007, versus $107,307 in 2000.

The AMA is taking a hard look at the problem and considering a number of solutions, including programs that would shorten the length of time medical students spend in school. Among the concepts being explored are competency-based curriculums and combined-degree programs that would offer BA-MD degrees. Some schools offer these programs now but only a few actually shorten the overall length of education. Another idea is to allow medical students to complete part of their first-year residency curriculum in their third year of medical school.

The AMA is also lobbying for increased federal aid to medical schools to hold down tuition costs and proposing that medical school tuition be tax deductible. The association is also asking the government to loosen the rules on student-loan interest and debt repayment. Currently, the amount of loan interest that can be written off is capped at $2,500, and that’s only if the graduate’s adjusted gross income is less than $70,000, or $145,000 for married couples filing jointly.