U Healthcare CEO Calls for New Funding Model in DC

Mar 25, 2014

The Dean of the University of Utah’s School of Medicine was in Washington DC Tuesday testifying before a House appropriations subcommittee which included Representative Chris Stewart of Utah’s 2nd District. Dr. Vivian Lee requested an increase in medical research and education funding in the federal budget.

Dr. Lee told the subcommittee that we stand at a critical juncture in the history of healthcare. To make her point about the importance of biomedical research, she used the high profile case of Angelina Jolie and her family’s experience with the BRCA1 gene.

“After studying numerous Utah families like Jolie’s where the mothers and daughters were affected by breast and ovarian cancer, researchers at the University of Utah sequenced the BRCA1 gene, and helped to create a test to determine a patient’s risk for getting the disease.  This discovery has saved thousands of lives around the world,” Lee said.

As CEO of University of Utah Healthcare, Lee is responsible for an annual budget of more than 2.3 billion dollars. She told the subcommittee that research and education funding is subsidized by clinical revenues, which are declining.  She said the current funding model is unsustainable. Lee requested that the subcommittee fund the National Institutes of Health at least 32 billion dollars for research. She also requested 520 million dollars for the education of medical professionals. 

“Of Utah’s 29 counties, 27 are designated as primary care health professional shortage areas. Title VII and VIII programs allow us to address these gaps by funding the training of nurses, physician’s assistants, family medicine physicians, and other health professionals so that our communities, both rural and urban receive the care that they need,” Lee said.

Representative Chris Stewart asked about the growing cost of charity care. Dr. Lee told him that uncompensated care cost the U’s medical system about 100 million dollars this year, and it’s grown about 25 percent from the previous year. She estimated that an expansion of Medicaid or its equivalent in Utah would level off that growth and reduce the cost by about 20 million dollars.