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Expand chart
Data: Association of American Medical Colleges; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Kaiser Permanente's new School of Medicine will cover all tuition and health insurance costs for each student in its first 5 graduating classes.

The big picture: More than a quarter of medical school students graduated with no debt in 2017, up from 15% in 2010. The number of debt-free doctors — one of the highest-paying professions — could rise further if other institutions follow the lead set by Kaiser and NYU's medical school.

By the numbers: 1 year of tuition at Kaiser's medical school, which will have active students by next summer, costs about $55,000. Kaiser's health coverage costs about $6,500 per year.

  • Covering those costs for 4 years for the first 5 classes, each of which will enroll 48 students, means Kaiser will be shelling out roughly $60 million from its own coffers. (Kaiser will not cover students' estimated $34,500 in annual living expenses.)
  • That's basically a rounding error for Kaiser, which owns health plans, hospitals and doctors' clinics and collected $80 billion of revenue in 2018. The multiyear project also represents just 3% of Kaiser's $1.9 billion operating income in 2018.
  • The school will be funded through Kaiser's "community benefits" program, which not-for-profit health care organizations build as a way to justify tax exemptions.

What they're saying: The rationale for free med school is that it will encourage more minority and low-income students to enter medicine, where the average debt per graduate who borrows is $192,000, and it will hopefully push more people to choose lower-paying medical specialties over the highest-paying ones.

  • "We don't want debt to influence students' career choices," said Mark Schuster, dean and CEO of Kaiser's medical school. "We would like it so students can follow their heart and go into the work environment that feels right for them."
  • Schuster said the school will offer "substantial financial aid" after the first 5 classes, and that the real "innovation" isn't the full rides: "It's everything else we're doing to design an educational approach that will turn out phenomenal physicians."

Yes, but: After NYU announced its free tuition last year for all current and future medical students, economists and policymakers warned the move would merely subsidize education costs for an already-affluent group, and it would not guarantee disadvantaged students get chosen over others.

Go deeper

Symone Sanders leaving VP's office

Vice President Kamala Harris and her press secretary Symone Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The VP has faced an onslaught of criticism in her first year centered on her leadership and staff, adding to the suggestion, she’s not the Democratic Party’s preferred nominee for 2024.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 3 hours ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.