USUHS: No Wonder Some Pronounce It USELESS

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The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

Battleland gets ticked off when people working for him can’t answer straight-forward questions about how much of his and other taxpayers’ money is paying for something.

Take the Defense Department’s Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the Pentagon’s own medical school located in Bethesda, Md. Created by Congress in 1972, it has churned out nearly 5,000 M.D.s for the military since the first class of 32 began its medical education there in 1976. Battleland knows some USUSH graduates and is in awe of their dedication to keeping military personnel and their families well.

But how much are those doctors costing us?

Battleland has been trying to get this question answered for a week to no avail. That means either the school lacks such information, which makes it incompetent on the bookkeeping front, or the cost is too high to share freely and willingly with the taxpayers who fund it.

When we first requested the total cost of educating a military doctor at USUHS, we noted that a 1995 Government Accountability Office report pegged the total cost per student at $3.3 million.

The school was quick to respond to that figure, if only to dispute it. “The $3.3M figure cited in the 1995 GAO report includes total lifetime education and career compensation for graduates (pay, retirement, graduate medical education, military training, and federal support, in addition to education costs),” the school responded. But it wouldn’t tell us the current cost of educating one military doctor over his or her four-year career.

So we asked again, and the school responded – if you can call it that — again. “To my knowledge, that is still the most current comprehensive study,” the school said.

Wow. So the official line from the school is:

— We have no idea how much of your money we spend to educate a military doctor.

— If you want that kind of information, your best source is an outside agency’s data that’s 17 years old.

USUHS will properly note that its budget funds more than the doctors’ education, including post-graduate programs for nurses and dentists. And its doctors stay in the military longer than doctors from other medical schools, driving down the cost to the taxpayer for each year of a USUHS doctor’s service.

We’ll post better figures when and if we get them.

And, just for the record, here is what the GAO said about USUHS’s costs 17 years ago:

GAO’s analysis shows that on a per graduate basis, the University is the most expensive source of military physicians when considering DOD costs and total federal costs. With DOD education and retention costs of about $3.3 million, the cost of a University graduate is more than 2 times greater than the $1.5 million cost for a regular scholarship program graduate and about 5 times greater than the $659,000 cost for a deferred scholarship program graduate. When all federal costs are considered, the cost of a University graduate is about $3.4 million, about 1.9 times more costly than regular scholarship program graduates ($1.8 million) and more than 2.7 times more costly than deferred scholarship program graduates ($1.2 million).

The difference in costs between the University and the scholarship program narrows when costs are amortized over the expected years of military service for each group because University graduates are expected to serve nearly twice as long as their regular scholarship program peers and more than three times as long as deferred scholarship program physicians. On an expected years of service basis, DOD’s cost to educate and retain a University graduate is about $176,000 compared with about $150,000 for the regular scholarship program and about $125,000 for the deferred scholarship program.

However, when total federal costs are amortized over the expected years of military service, the costs of University graduates are more comparable to scholarship program physicians because the University receives less non-DOD federal support than civilian medical schools. University graduates are expected to serve for about 18.5 years, on average, resulting in a per year federal cost of about $182,000. Regular scholarship program physicians, expected to serve for 9.8 years, on average, have an annual federal cost of about $181,000, and deferred scholarship program physicians, expected to serve for 5.3 years, on average, have an annual federal cost of about $232,000.

Trust that clears things up.