Way back last September (it feels like more than 11 months ago), I gave a speech talking about health care in Travis County and the region – where we were, where we needed to go, and how we needed to get there.
I set out 10 goals for our community to accomplish in 10 years. Key among them was the creation of a medical school at the University of Texas, but the list also included a teaching hospital, unique and modern health clinics, new research and commercialization resources, facilities to make Austin a center for comprehensive cancer care, and a needed overhaul of behavioral and mental health services in Travis County.
Well, a whole lot of work has gone into all of those things over the past year, and I think it’s time to take the next step:
It’s time to give Travis County voters the chance to invest in the health of themselves and their families, as well as the economic future of this community.
I believe this November’s vitally important election ballot should include an item to fund health services that support a medical school, a new teaching hospital, health clinics across our community, prevention and wellness programs, primary and specialty care services, behavioral and mental health care, and efforts to obtain matching federal health care funds by increasing Central Health’s tax rate 5 cents.
This investment would have a dramatic and immediate effect on the health of Central Texans and their families.
The needs we share
Now’s the time to do it because of the needs we share in this region.
Most importantly, and a crucial thing to remember when looking at how all of this fits together, is we need more doctors. Frankly, we don’t have enough doctors to treat everyone who needs help now, and that shortage will increase as our population grows.
We also need clinics tailored to our community’s needs, a stronger behavioral and mental health system, and additional primary and specialty care.
And we need the additional research and treatment options that will help make Austin a center for medical excellence and cancer care. Right now, too many people in and around Austin travel to Houston, Dallas or another far-off city to get cutting-edge treatments that they, their doctors and their families think they need. With this investment, more folks will be able to get that care in Central Texas and still come home to their own beds each night.
We also need the economic windfall that a medical school, teaching hospital and other aspects of the 10 Goals in 10 Years would create. A med school at UT, together with affiliated activity, would create 15,000 permanent jobs and approximately $2 billion in economic prosperity. And it would connect the research already going on at UT with patients who need lifesaving treatments – not to mention companies that want to bring those therapies to the market.
The stars aligning
Now’s the time to make this commitment because so many of our community’s partners are making it too.
The UT System Board of Regents has pledged $25 million a year to create the medical school – plus $40 million over the first eight years to get it going.
The Seton Healthcare Family has tentatively agreed to spend at least a quarter of a billion dollars to build a modern teaching hospital that would replace UMC-Brackenridge.
Central Health, the Travis County health care district, is working with Seton to create new health care delivery systems that will improve the quality of care that’s available to Central Texas families while also saving taxpayers’ money. It’s a singular piece of the overall vision modeled along the lines of an Accountable Care Organization.
And the state and federal government have created an arrangement – which is known, in the most eye-glazing words possible, as an 1115 Medicaid Transformation Waiver – that’s meant to make the health care system more efficient and effective, and to improve the quality of care for the uninsured. It leverages our community resources in a significant way: for every dollar we raise for these purposes, the federal government matches an additional $1.46. This program more than doubles our money, and every day we wait to take advantage of it costs us.
But these efforts are really contingent on the number of doctors we have in this community – the innovations simply won’t work as well if there aren’t enough doctors to allow for them. And the cheapest, most effective way to incorporate those doctors would be to couple this treatment with their training, thereby staffing our clinics and teaching hospitals with the best and brightest medical students and residents.
A med school at UT would be the region’s essential source of physicians for generations. It would create a pipeline of medical students and residents to provide care to those with little or no insurance, and of doctors who’d make their careers treating us and our friends and loved ones.
As was reported yesterday, the full cost of a medical school is about $4.1 billion over its first 12 years. That’s a big, critical bridge that will lead this community into the future while helping us all live longer, healthier lives.
There’s just one last segment to build out, and it equates to a roughly $35 million-a-year public match. That’s $35 million to create a medical school worth billions to our economy – and even more, quite possibly, to individual Central Texans who’ll need the discoveries and doctors that the medical school produces.
That’s why I’m so passionate about this. It’s why I and so many others have worked so hard to make it happen. We’re so close to something we’ve wanted and needed in this community for so long.
Everywhere I go in this community, I hear the enthusiasm for this project. People crave the good that can come from these resources and this vision.
We know where we are. We know where we want to go. We know what it will cost – and I think that’s shaping up to be a very good investment in our health, our families, our community and our economy.
It’s time to give the people of Travis County a chance to make it.