House passes tax break for newly licensed doctors

JACKSON — Some new physicians in Mississippi could get a tax break in another effort by the state to attract more doctors.

The House passed the measure yesterday, 120-1. It would allow newly licensed physicians to not pay state income taxes on income exceeding $100,000 a year.

The break from the 5 percent tax rate would be good for up to 10 years. Up to 1,000 physicians could claim it, sponsors said, although they estimated far fewer would qualify.

Those working in places designated as areas where physicians are in short supply would be eligible. That could encompass most of Mississippi.

Of its 82 counties, only DeSoto, George and Lowndes were entirely outside a physician shortage area in 2010, according to federal figures. It was unclear late yesterday if the state used the same definitions. A 2009 study published by the state showed 52 underserved counties as entirely underserved, although that data is expected to be updated in April.

The bill is one of several health-care related measures that Gov. Phil Bryant is encouraging. The Republican governor also wants the Legislature to pass tax breaks to encourage medical-related facilities to locate in certain areas, for example. Overall, Bryant has said he believes that a larger health care industry would be good for the state’s economy and the well-being of its residents.

“This legislation will not only allow doctors to serve the rural areas of our state while maintaining the necessary income to support their families but can also foster the development of jobs that support a physician’s practice,” Bryant said in a statement. “Further, by increasing the availability of quality health care, we can improve the health of Mississippians and work toward reducing our state’s health care expenditures.”

The bill goes to the Senate, and its prospects there are unclear.

“The lieutenant governor has not seen the bill and will review the measure once it is sent over from the House,” said Laura Hipp, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican.

According to federal figures from 2010, Mississippi general practitioners made an average of $176,000, while other kinds of primary care physicians including internists, obstetrician-gynecologists and pediatricians made more. At the state’s 5 percent income tax rate, the break would be worth about $3,800 a year for an average general practitioner

Dr. Thomas Joyner, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association, said that doctors would probably make less than the average when just starting out, meaning tax savings would also be less. But he said that the tax break could be helpful when combined with the rural physician scholarship program that the Legislature created in 2007. That program identifies college students who are interested in becoming physicians serving rural areas, and supports them through money and mentoring.

The scholarship program’s first resident is scheduled to complete her training this summer and has agreed to start work in Brookhaven, said Janie Guice, the program’s director.

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