Maui News Editorial supports medical school funding

Short-term view, long-term damage?
February 25, 2011

One of the unfortunate aspects of budget crunches like that being faced by Hawaii right now is that worthwhile organizations find themselves fighting each other for scarce funds.

The John A. Burns School of Medicine currently gets $4 million per year from the federal government’s settlement of a lawsuit with cigarette manufacturers. That is a portion of the estimated $1.38 billion the state will receive over 25 years, according to Ka Leo, the University of Hawaii student newspaper.

The problem is the intrastate agreement to give the medical school a share of those funds expires in July. HB1330 would extend the expiration date. Anti-tobacco groups oppose this extension, saying the money was intended to educate the public about the dangers of tobacco.

Backers of the Burns School position say it has already suffered $6 million in cuts from its budget and another $4 million loss could result in the doubling of tuition for in-state students. They point out that in-state medical students are the ones most likely to stay and practice in Hawaii when they are awarded their medical degrees.

And Hawaii has a continuing doctor shortage.

A medical student interviewed by Ka Leo for its Feb. 23 edition said his in-state tuition currently is $27,000, and that he spends an additional $20,000 per year on books, supplies, equipment and room and board. The student told the newspaper it is not unusual for a new M.D. to graduate with over $200,000 in student loan debts.

If that tuition number doubles, how many in-state students will we lose? How many future doctors for Hawaii’s residents will be lost?

We realize the Legislature and the administration have many tough choices to make this year. But this shouldn’t be one of them.

Extending the Burns school’s share of the tobacco settlement is essential. A shortsighted ducking of this looming expiration could have devastating long-term effects on the state and its citizens.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.

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