AMIA worries GOP tax plan may be 'detrimental' to health informatics profession

Orrin Hatch
AMIA leadership asked Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and other lawmakers to take out a provision of the tax bill that would impact tuition. (Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Citing provisions of the Republican’s tax overhaul that would impact graduate tuition waivers, the American Medical Informatics Association expressed concerns that the provision could dissuade students from pursuing a career in health informatics.

In a letter (PDF) to leading members of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, AMIA President and CEO Douglas Fridsma and Board Chair Thomas Payne called on lawmakers to remove the tax on tuition waivers included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Variations of the bill passed both the House and Senate, forcing lawmakers to resolve the differences and vote on the final legislation before sending it to the president.

Congress plans to vote on the final bill next week, according to The New York Times.

RELATED: The GOP is getting closer to passing its tax bill. Here's what it could mean for health insurers

Calling health informatics a “quintessential 21st century profession,” AMIA pointed out that most graduate students studying health informatics are offered stipends of less than $30,000 a year, which would be whittled down to less than $20,000 under the GOP’s tax bill. That amount would make graduate studies “impossible” for students with limited finical support and could have “significant and detrimental impacts” on the field of informatics.

“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,” Fridsma and Payne wrote, adding that increased reliance on computerized medical care will require a sustainable supply of well-trained professionals.

RELATED: Health IT salaries fell 20% in 2017 even as executive compensation surged

Health IT salaries have already fallen 20% over the last year, and informatics professionals have taken the brunt of that decline reporting a median salary of $46,000 a year, $30,000 less than 2016, according to one survey.

Meanwhile, certain health IT specialties, like cybersecurity, are facing a severe workforce shortage. That issue was highlighted as a significant concern among members of the HHS Cybersecurity Task Force that issued a report in May, and one expert estimated 85% of providers don’t have a dedicated security professional on staff.