Congressional action could harm growth of medical informatics

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With House and Senate members working to reconcile competing positions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the American Medical Informatics Association is telling lawmakers that a specific provision could significantly reduce the future availability of medical informaticists.

The association is asking that provisions that would count graduate medical tuition waivers as taxable income be eliminated from the forthcoming law. The worry is that graduate fellowships in medical informatics often offer stipends of less than $30,000 a year, AMIA is telling Congress in a recent letter to the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.

Taxes would reduce graduate income to a net less than $20,000 a year, (which) would leave very little room beyond living expenses, making graduate studies impossible for many students who have no other means of financial support,” according to the letter.

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Consequently, the field of medical informatics could dry up. “As health informatics students graduate from highly respected schools in biology, medicine and computing-related fields, we anticipate that a disincentive of this magnitude would drive potential students from pursuing graduate research, initiating a deleterious effect across both academia and industry, which increasingly relies on high-quality graduate training.”

In the past year, Congress has enacted the 21st Century Cures Act that includes provisions to support the next generation of researchers, as well as the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, AMIA leaders Douglas Fridsma, MD, and Thomas Payne remind lawmakers in the letter.

“Discouraging graduate research in health informatics would have potentially long-reaching impacts on our healthcare and economy,” they warn. “In an era of increased computerization of medical care, including the promise of precision medicine guided by machine learning and artificial intelligence, the need for skilled informaticians capable of understanding both medical care and information systems will only continue to increase.”

The entire letter to lawmakers is available here.

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