With voters' support, medical school moves forward

Austin moved one step closer to having its own medical school when Travis County voters approved Proposition 1 on Nov. 6.

Proposition 1 effectively allows Central Health to make the most out of a federal Medicaid program and expand care that could be offered through a new medical school.

The vote—and its promise of support— "allows The University of Texas to establish a medical school," according to a university statement.

After the election, UT President Bill Powers said he hopes to break ground next year and have an inaugural medical school class of 50 students—as well as a new teaching hospital built by Seton Healthcare Family—in place by 2015–16.

"That timeline is very aggressive," he said. "One thing I want to emphasize [is that] this is not way off in the 2020s," he said.

Proposition 1 basics

Proposition 1 was a ballot measure to increase the tax rate of Central Health, the Travis County Healthcare District.

Proposition 1 raised the tax rate by 5 cents from 7.8946 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of property valuation.

It would amount to a roughly $107 annual tax increase, or about $9 per month, for a taxpayer with an average homestead assessed at $214,567.

The Central Health board of managers put the measure on the ballot in August partly to be able to afford projects that could be assisted by federal funds from the 1115 Medicaid Transformational Waiver.

The 1115 waiver is supposed to encourage the creation of new projects to improve how health care is delivered locally while still reimbursing hospitals for treating low-income patients.

According to the ballot, the funds from Proposition 1 would be used toward improving health care in the county, including:

  • Support for a new medical school, and/or
  • Obtaining federal matching funds for services.

How the two are related is that Central Health would use the federal matching funds to purchase expanded care that could be delivered through the medical school.

Waiver money cannot go toward the construction of the medical school but will likely support services there, Central Health officials have stated.

UT has reportedly estimated the cost to build the school to be $4.1 billion over 12 years.

Construction funding will come from UT, philanthropy and other sources.

Central Health's board of managers was scheduled to officially report, or canvass, the election results on Nov. 19.

The board accepted the results and put the new tax rate in effect for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2013, according to Christie Garbe, Central Health chief communications and planning officer.

Meanwhile, Proposition 1 opponents called the ballot language misleading.

The Travis County Taxpayers Union Political Action Committee filed for an injunction in federal court to stop the votes from being canvassed. On Nov. 15, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel denied the request for an injunction.

University of Texas

During a Nov. 7 news conference, UT deans praised Proposition 1's passage and described how a medical school would benefit students and the community.

Powers called the vote "historic" and thanked voters and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-District 14.

"This is a milestone moment," he said. "Over the last 30–40 years and increasingly, the work done in the colleges and schools are done in collaboration with medical schools, both the research and the bench-to-bedside care."

UT is expected to build two medical school buildings that will house research as well as classroom and administrative functions.

Powers expected that UT would recruit current staffers as well as hire 35 new faculty members specifically for the medical school. He also predicted that new businesses would grow near the school.

"We are going to work with Central Health, Seton and the practicing [medical] community in Austin," he said. "We are going to build this out to be a medical school that will not only be outstanding from an academic medical standpoint but also serve the community."