2012 Voter Guide

UT needs a medical school: The case for Central Health's Proposition 1

UT needs a medical school: The case for Central Health's Proposition 1

Editor's note: CultureMap Austin is proud to partner with Leadership Austin — the region's premier provider of civic and community leadership development — in this series of editorial columns meant to inform Austinites about the upcoming City of Austin proposition elections to be held Nov. 6.

This is the first of two articles spelling out arguments for and against the City of Austin's Proposition 1 election on funding the University of Texas Medical School. This article advocates voting yes; the second article, opposing Proposition 1, will be published Thursday.


Central Health, the owner of University Medical Center Brackenridge (UTMB), placed Proposition 1 on the ballot to transform the way healthcare is delivered to the poor and uninsured in Travis County. It will ensure more efficient systems and effective healthcare plans. And it will focus on prevention and wellness, on helping those with chronic conditions maintain their health, and on paying for care based on the outcomes for patients. 

Prop 1’s passage will mean improved health care for more of the 200,000 Travis County residents without insurance. It will result in healthier and more productive families, better-utilized clinics by the uninsured and underinsured, more access for mental health treatment and less-crowded emergency rooms that are better able to focus on families and individuals with real emergencies. 

Central Health will procure some of these services through the faculty, medical students and residents at a new Austin medical school — providing a revenue stream to help cover some of the med school’s costs. Approximately 90 percent of the funding for the medical school will come from UT System, Seton, research grants and other identified funding sources.

Projections show we will need 770 more doctors in Central Texas by 2016 just to keep up with population growth. Already, a lack of physicians who accept Medicaid and Medicare means many of us must wait weeks or months to see a specialist. That leads some families and individuals to travel to other cities to get care. 

And our senior population, of which I am a member, is growing at record rates. Between 2000 and 2010, Travis County had the second fastest growing senior population in the country. And we had the fastest growth rate in the U.S. among baby boomers between the ages of 55 and 64. And, as I’m very aware, people over 65 access health care services twice as much as those under 65.

A new medical school and teaching hospital will create a pipeline of doctors and other health care professionals, trained to work together in teams, who will likely practice in the region after they train here. Studies show that 80 percent of doctors that study and train in Texas remain in Texas to practice medicine — most within 50 miles of their training site.

Travis County residents also will gain access to cutting-edge treatments developed by medical school faculty through clinical trials. Almost everyone I know has a close friend or family member who has traveled to Houston, Dallas or out of state to receive complex treatments — like liver transplants — or for clinical trials that are not available in Austin. Imagine Austin becoming a medical destination for cutting-edge treatment.

With the new medical school and teaching hospital, our region stands to gain 15,000 new permanent jobs and $2 billion in annual economic activity. Those jobs are not just for MDs and PhDs — 60 percent of them are expected to require less than four-year degrees and they will be spread across many industries.

We can’t forget who Prop 1 is serving — the uninsured and those most vulnerable in our society. The surprising fact is that almost six in 10 of those folks are employed. 

In an entrepreneurial, creative city like Austin, these are our friends and neighbors — they live in our neighborhoods, and we probably see them every day. When they become ill, they face impossible choices — needing health care they can’t begin to afford.

What Prop 1 does not do is build buildings. UT will pay for the bricks and mortar and many operating expenses of the medical school. The Seton Healthcare Family will pay to build a new teaching hospital and to expand the number of residency slots in Central Texas.    

Prop 1 will raise our health care tax by 5 cents — a nickel — per $100 valuation. That is approximately $100 a year for a $200,000 home. For the average Travis County property owner, that is less than $9/month.

By accessing federal health care funds — tapping $1.46 from Washington for every dollar our region raises — our community can expand the capacity of the healthcare system and catalyze investments in infrastructure and services at a level we’ve previously only imagined. Prop 1 is an investment in our community and in health care for you and your family.

Central Health Tax Ratification Election

PROP. 1: Approving the ad valorem tax rate of $0.129 per $100 valuation in Central Health, also known as the Travis County Healthcare District, for the 2013 tax year, a rate that exceeds the district’s rollback tax rate. The proposed ad valorem tax rate exceeds the ad valorem tax rate most recently adopted by the district by $0.05 per $100 valuation; funds will be used for improved healthcare in Travis County, including 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 healthcare professionals, primary care, behavioral and mental healthcare, prevention and wellness programs, and/or to obtain federal matching funds for healthcare services.


Former Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley was a panelist at the Oct. 10 ENGAGE Breakfast Town Hall event with KXAN News. The opinions of Leadership Austin alumni and faculty members are their own, and do not represent an official position of the organization.

Austin Photo: News_betty dunkerley_healthcare_Oct 2012_hospital
Courtesy of Seton Healthcare