Is it worth the extra taxpayer money to train doctors at WSU instead of UW?

A new performance audit — released days after Washington State University’s first class of medical students arrived in Spokane — has renewed questions about whether the new med school was the best use of state money.

A new analysis backs up what many state officials suspected all along: Training doctors at the new medical school at Washington State University probably will cost taxpayers more than training those students at the top-ranked University of Washington School of Medicine.

That news isn’t shocking to state lawmakers, who greenlighted the new medical school at WSU’s Spokane campus two years ago.

But the release of the performance audit last month — just days after WSU’s first class of 60 medical students arrived in Spokane — stirred up long-simmering tensions between politicians on the eastern and western sides of the state about whether the new medical school was the best use of state money.

“I guess I can say, ‘I told you so,’ ” said state Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle and the chairwoman of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee. “A lot of good that does me.”

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In 2015, Cody favored expanding the UW’s contingent of medical students in Spokane rather than starting a new, competing medical school at WSU.

Yet backers of the WSU medical school say the investment in the new school will pay off by helping lure more future doctors to Eastern Washington, while also bringing research and development dollars that will help bolster the local economy.

“It’s definitely worth it,” said state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane and the prime sponsor of the 2015 measure to eliminate the UW’s monopoly on medical education in Washington state.

Riccelli cited a shortage of primary-care doctors throughout the state as one reason the new medical school is needed.

“If we can train folks here and get them out to our rural and underserved areas, I think we’re going to help alleviate this health-care crisis,” he said.

The Legislature dedicated $2.5 million in its 2015-17 budget to getting the WSU medical school up and running, and has committed another $10 million over the next two years to pay for the first two classes of medical students at the WSU campus.

As part of the funding deal, lawmakers in 2015 asked the State Auditor’s Office to examine the costs of medical education at each university, since various…

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