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AMIA Warns of Tax Bill’s Impact on Graduate School Programs in Informatics

December 14, 2017
by David Raths
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Organization fears that counting graduate student tuition waivers as taxable income would discourage participation

Provisions in the Republican tax bill that would count graduate student tuition waivers as taxable income would have detrimental impacts on the viability of fields such as informatics, according to a letter sent to Congressional leaders by the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA).

In the letter, sent to the Senate Finance and House Ways & Means committees, AMIA said it is concerned that making the stipend even more modest would discourage participation in graduate informatics education.

Specifically, AMIA members are concerned that proposed changes that would count graduate student tuition waivers as taxable income would discourage participation in graduate programs. Many graduate fellowships in medical informatics offer stipends of less than $30,000 per year. Taxes that would reduce modest income to a net of less than $20,000 per year (as projected by some observers) would leave very little room beyond living expenses, making graduate studies impossible for many students who have no other means of financial support. “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,” the letter said.

Discouraging graduate research in health informatics would have potentially long-reaching impacts on the nation’s healthcare and economy, the organization said. 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 continue to increase. Without a continued supply of capable, well-trained professionals, opportunities to develop new technologies – and new industries – capable of improving care and saving money will be missed.

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