Government

Hubbell would use economic development funds to recruit doctors

Debt forgiveness key to getting medical people in rural areas, Democrat says

Iowa Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell speaks during a Thursday discussion on health care at the University of Iowa Pappajohn Biomedical Research Building in Iowa City. Hubbell and his running mate, state Sen. Rita Hart (right), spoke about using economic development funds to help UI medical students repay their education debt if they will work in rural Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell speaks during a Thursday discussion on health care at the University of Iowa Pappajohn Biomedical Research Building in Iowa City. Hubbell and his running mate, state Sen. Rita Hart (right), spoke about using economic development funds to help UI medical students repay their education debt if they will work in rural Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Fred Hubbell, who has made the state’s use of wasteful “corporate giveaways” a central theme of his gubernatorial campaign, wants to shift those resources to other priorities, such as expanding health care access in rural Iowa.

“I’m much more in favor of working with local communities that can’t recruit the kind of professionals they need,” the Democratic nominee for governor said Thursday in Iowa City. “If they have a shortage and they’re not being able to fill it and if they are willing to put some money on the table, the state should be their partners.”

Hubbell, who met with Iowa City Democrats Rep. Mary Mascher and Sen. Joe Bolkcom, and a professor and student from the University of Iowa medical school, said economic development funds could be used to offset student loan debt of health care professionals who agree to practice in smaller communities for a set period of time — five years, for example.

Fourth-year student Rob Humble from Estherville said he knows classmates who would like to stay in Iowa, but are having second thoughts because of the Legislature’s recently enacted six-week abortion ban that potentially could affect the UI College of Medicine’s accreditation and because of their student loan debt.

He would like to see the state’s forgivable loan program for family practice doctors expanded to include medical school graduates in other practices.

“If we want to keep these rural Iowans in Iowa, loan forgiveness is the first step,” Humble said.

Iowa offers a variety of loan forgiveness programs for people entering the health care, education public employment and legal professions. However, Mascher said the funding for those programs has not kept up with demand.

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Marygrace Elson, a UI clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology, said the shortage in that field is particularly acute outside the state’s metro areas. The UI has five slots for OB/GYN students each year and typically one-third — one or two — stay in Iowa upon graduation.

“If we can get three or four to work in rural Iowa rather than one or two a year, that starts to make a difference,” Hubbell said.

The retired Des Moines business executive said it would make sense to shift some economic development funds from tax credits for businesses to recruiting professionals in rural Iowa. That would improve health care in those communities and make them more attractive to employers.

“The reason employers grow somewhere or move is, first of all, access to quality of workforce,” Hubbell said. “Second of all, is having the right kind of infrastructure. Well, health care is a key infrastructure. So is education.”

However, the Reynolds campaign said that given his record Hubbell can’t be trusted to protect rural Iowa.

“When he led economic development under the disastrous Culver administration, he gave away millions in tax credits with no strategy and no results,” said Pat Garrett, campaign spokesman. “As a private businessman, he closed stores and fired workers while giving himself a $90,000 pay raise.”

Hubbell also opposed bipartisan legislation this year to provide affordable health care options to Iowans, Garrett said, a reference to the bill allowing Iowa Farm Bureau to offer so-called “skimpy” health plans with limited coverage options to its members.

“Gov. Reynolds is getting results, with rising incomes, more jobs and access to more affordable health care,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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