[The following article was submitted to the Statesman, which made several omissions from the original]
UNNECESSARY AND TOO COSTLY
Most Austinites agree that a modern city like ours should facilitate a healthcare safety net for indigent citizens. A century ago, such services were provided by private charitable groups, who opened the Seton Infirmary in 1902. Since then, an expanding tax and spend bureaucracy has taken control. “Government welfare has destroyed the charitable system which was far more effective, compassionate and more person to person in helping people”, according to Nobel Prize economist Dr. Milton Friedman. Texans have demonstrated true charity for generations, but constant expansion of taxation under the false flag of charity has now undermined charitable efforts.
Central Texans should be proud of their quality healthcare facilities and dedicated professionals. We’re served by over 30 hospitals, a network of clinics, and hundreds of private practitioners. Austin’s Brakenridge Hospital is state of the art and rated by OSHA as the safest top level trauma center in America. Visit the hospital and you will see – it’s not “crumbling”.
Texas has eight LCME accredited medical schools (the same as California); four controlled by the U.T. System. Moreover, a new (2009) medical school in Round Rock, formed without the precondition of increased property taxes, is already operating and expanding Central Texas healthcare.
Currently, A&M Health Sciences Center operates 12 central Texas teaching hospitals / clinical affiliates. The U.T. Southwestern Medical school teaching hospital branch at Brakenridge advertises numerous residency programs and currently has over a hundred medical students, and names a “Regional Dean”.
We also have the Austin Clinical Education Center (CEC), “a powerhouse academic collaboration creating an innovative approach to address education, training, and the current growing shortage of nursing, physicians and other skilled clinical personnel in Central Texas”. The CEC hosts over 200,000 function attendees a year. Austin Community College’s property tax increase funded their Health Sciences Division “number 1 trainer and retrainer for healthcare professionals”. Additionally, Austin’s U.T. School of Nursing – “one of the nations leading nursing schools”, operates two community based wellness centers.
Finally, Austin property owners already fund excellent indigent healthcare through Central Health, which receives over $100 million annually. It operates 21 Travis County healthcare centers; the gigantic new North Central Community Center recently opened, and another 70,000 square feet clinic opens in 2013.
EXISTING TAXES / INCREASES
Prop 1’s outrageous 63% Central Health tax increase cannot be justified. Travis county taxpayers, already carrying the highest per-capita burden of any metropolitan county in Texas, are suffering “death by a thousand cuts”, with our poor and elderly hardest hit. Many on fixed incomes sacrifice to fund ever increasing tax bills on their homes. East Austin ‘gentrification’ is literally taxing some residents out of their homes. This year alone, City and County property taxes are again rising substantially along with water and electricity rates. The Statesman recently reported that property tax bills increased 38% (adjusted for inflation) from 2000 – 2010.
FALSE PROMISE OF IMPROVED HEALTHCARE
Proponents promise “improved healthcare” and how “cancer patients won’t have to travel for treatment”; promises that ignore reality. Austin has six dedicated cancer centers that proclaim “advanced technologies offered by nobody else”, “the most advanced, patient-friendly cancer treatment available” and “the latest state-of-the art imaging and diagnostic technologies”. Still, some travel to world-renowned M.D. Anderson – as princes and billionaires the world over also do. To claim such travel will become unnecessary is laughable. To imply our local practitioners and facilities are sub-standard insults the dedicated professionals providing Austin’s outstanding health care.
DUBIOUS CLAIMS OF ECONOMIC ACTIVITY
Politicians claim this will ‘create jobs’ and economic activity. In reality, these promises are unsupported by demonstrated facts. With consistent growth and a 5-6% unemployment rate, Austin doesn’t have an employment problem which more taxes can solve. Claims of “billions in activity” omit much of that would be spent anyway, and most comes from within our community. Central Health’s promises of increased federal spending are also irresponsible, considering the credit downgrade of the federal government and over $16 trillion of debt.
What started as voluntary charity healthcare has transformed into a corporate political machine, which exploits highly charged emotions of indigent healthcare. Voters are being persuaded by a corporately funded professional campaign; a similar campaign spent over $180,000 of corporate money in 2004 passing the original healthcare property tax. When you see their slick ads, remember this isn’t the charitable Seton Infirmary of 1902 — its 21st century empire building on the backs of homeowners.