Reps. Brenda Landwehr and Barbara Ballard defended Thursday a recommendation to restore funding for a program they say will keep doctors in rural areas.

The funding would benefit a Wichita-based partnership that places medical students at hospitals across the state, with an emphasis on serving indigents and training future doctors in a variety of fields.

The House Appropriations Committee approved adding the $5.9 million to the current fiscal year’s budget, surviving motions by Rep. Bill Sutton, R-Gardner, and Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, who objected to giving hospitals money from the state’s general fund with three months left in the budget cycle. The committee also approved the funding for next year, when the total will be offset by $1.65 million in matching funds.

Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat whose son benefited from the program, said the service was too valuable to delay funding any longer. The state last provided support in 2010.

Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, told the other committee members to make a simple decision: “Do you want doctors in rural Kansas?”

She pointed to a map showing residents in the program are located throughout the state, with holes in counties in western Kansas that have fewer primary care physicians than they need.

Participants in the program make a three-year commitment. Landwehr and Ballard said those who get their start in rural Kansas sometimes stay and open a family practice.

But Johnson recalled nights last June after lawmakers passed a massive tax increase and raised concerns about spending “all those resources” with other “hard decisions” to come.

“We do want doctors in rural Kansas,” Johnson said. “We (also) want to keep our schools open in August.”

Hoffman supported funding the program next year but opposed spending the money this year. Hospitals have survived for years without the support, he said.

Several lawmakers weighed in to lament the broken promise made to hospitals to fund the program a decade earlier. Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, said it was important for lawmakers to build trust in the medical community.

“We can blame the hospitals for not coming forward and saying, ‘Yoohoo, don’t forget us,’ but the fact of the matter is we forgot too,” Concannon said.

“And we seem to want to leave that agreement behind just because it was a long time ago. I just think that private hospitals that could potentially work with us in the future to train our physicians will not be willing to step out and take on more because we aren’t willing from year to year to fulfill our obligation.”

Funding for both years passed on voice votes.