DALLAS – The medical community in Austin, Tex., is divided over a ballot proposition that would support a University of Texas medical school in the state capital.

If voters in Travis County, including Austin, approve Proposition 1 Tuesday, Central Texas Health Authority would be allowed to raise the current property tax rate of 7.89 cents per $100 valuation to 12.89 cents per $100 valuation. The University of Texas has committed to providing $25 million a year. Of the estimated $54 million the property tax would raise in new revenue, $35 million would go toward treatment of needy patients provided by the medical school faculty and residents — physicians in training.

UT has medical school branches in Houston, Galveston and Dallas.  In the Austin suburb of Round Rock, UT’s rival Texas A&M University opened a new medical school in 2009.  The medical school is part of a Health Sciences Center campus that includes nursing and pharmacy schools.

Texas Tech, another state university, has medical schools in Lubbock and El Paso in far west Texas.  Private Baylor University, which is 100 miles north of Austin, has medical schools and teaching hospitals in Houston and Dallas.

Among the opponents of the proposition is St. David’s HealthCare, which provides care for Medicare and Medicaid patients as well as some for-profit services.

David Huffstutler, president and chief executive of St. David’s, said last week that his company supports the idea of bringing a medical school to Austin, but the plan as proposed would fund it at the expense of the uninsured.

"We literally lose about $35 million a year providing care to the indigent and uninsured,” Huffstutler said. “Through its charter and its bylaws, Central Health's intended purpose is to provide indigent care to the needy of Travis County. So we believe as a first priority, before they use tax revenue for unrelated purposes like a medical school and a teaching hospital, they should first use that to help defray some of the expense and some of cost we incur on their behalf to care for indigent patients."

In Austin, three major hospitals provide safety-net health care along with St. David’s. Seton Healthcare, and University Medical Center Brackenridge, a city hospital operated by Seton. Seton, which already provides multidisciplinary simulation training at the Clinical Education Center it created at the public University Medical Center Brackenridge five years ago, is strongly supporting the measure.

With the medical school would come a new teaching hospital to replace Brackenridge.  That project would be bond-funded and financed in part by the University of Texas.

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