Bill offers incentives to fill IHS gap

Tax incentives aimed at attracting more job applicants are included in the Indian Health Service Health Professions Tax Fairness Act reintroduce in the U.S. Senate by Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Tom Udall, D-NM.

The bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude from gross income payments under the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program, as well as certain amounts received from the Indian Health Professions Scholarship Program.

Instead the IHS would pay the tax due through funding for the program, said Hannah Ray, press secretary to Murkowski. By making the two programs tax exempt, similar to the loan repayment program for the National Health Service Corps and U.S. Army, IHS is able to use the freed-up money for more scholarship and loan repayments directly.

The same legislation was introduced by Murkowski and Udall during the 114th Congress.

The bill has support from the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Health Board and the National Council of Urban Indian Health.

Murkowski said she has been working to move legislation to help ensure greater access to comprehensive and affordable health care in Alaska and nationwide, but that the vacancy rates for doctors, nurses and other medical workers in Alaska is a real challenge.

“Through IHS initiatives such as the Health Professions Scholarship Program and the Loan Repayment Program, a greater number of Native students have been able to receive the support they need to pursue good careers, but there’s still a great need to be met,” she said.

Recent estimates indicate there are over 1,500 healthcare provider vacancies in IHS, which currently uses 25 percent of its scholarship and loan repayment funds to pay taxes on the recruitment programs. If passed, the savings from this bill would allow IHS to award nearly 200 additional loan repayment benefits and scholarships annually.

Similar scholarship and loan repayment programs offered by the National Health Service Corps and the U.S. Army receive a permanent tax exemption from Congress in 2012.