Central Health puts tax increase on November ballot

This November, Travis County voters will decide whether to support a large tax increase for its health care district.

At its Aug. 15 meeting, the Central Health board of managers unanimously voted to place a proposition on the ballot asking voters to raise the tax rate by 5 cents.

That would take the 2013 tax rate from 7.89 cents to 12.89 cents per $100 of valuation. If voters approved the proposition, it would mean a $107 property tax increase for the average taxpayer with a homestead assessed at $214,567.

Central Health is asking for the money because of an opportunity to access federal funds.

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

As part of the waiver, the federal government will match $1.46 for every dollar that is locally generated. Central Health wants to maximize the amount of money it can get out of this federal match.

Central Health said approving the tax increase would produce $200 million more during the life of the waiver than if the district adopted modest increases during those five years.

They also said that raising the tax rate will help the district maintain programs if the waiver is not continued after the five years have passed.

The wording that will appear on the ballot states that the money will be used for:

  • "Support for a new medical school consistent with the mission of Central Health"
  • A site for a new teaching hospital
  • Trauma services
  • Specialty medicine such as cancer care, community-wide health clinics
  • Training for physicians, nurses and other health care professionals
  • Primary care
  • Behavioral and mental health care
  • Prevention and wellness programs
  • And/or to obtain federal matching funds for health care services.

During public comment, some speakers criticized the proposition as overtaxation and not serving the people Central Health aims to help. Others said support for a medical school and teaching hospital was not within Central Health's mission.

Central Health Planning Officer Christie Garbe said Central Health had received 266 emails in favor of placing the increase on the ballot and seven opposing.

The district had also received eight resolutions from organizations supporting the increase, including the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Austin Alliance, The University of Texas Alumni Association and Livestrong.

The managers praised the waiver as a unique opportunity to transform how health care is delivered and better serve the entire community, especially low-income residents and those with chronic conditions.

Prior to the meeting, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-District 14, and representatives from Austin's business, education and health care communities held a news conference across the street from Central Health's offices calling for the health care district to place the tax increase on the ballot.

Watson, who has championed the health care reform "10-in-10" initiative, said that now is the time for Austin to develop a medical school that will work with a new teaching hospital that Seton Healthcare Family will build to replace University Medical Center Brackenridge.

Central Health officials have stated that waiver money cannot go toward the construction of a medical school, but will likely fund services rendered by medical students and faculty in the course of their lessons.

By Joe Olivieri
Joe covered Southwest Austin news for Community Impact Newspaper from January 2011 to April 2015. His reporting focused on new businesses, development, transportation, industry and Travis County issues. He was named the paper's managing editor in April 2015. Joe hails from New Jersey.


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