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Women leaders speak out in support of Prop. 1 to improve health care

Friday, October 5, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Proponents for the Travis County Central Health district collected another series of endorsements Thursday as a host of speakers touted a proposed tax hike, if approved by voters, as good for the well-being of area women, children and families.


At a news conference on Thursday, former state Rep. Ann Kitchen delivered the tag line: “If you are a woman, or if you care about a woman, you should whole-heartedly support Proposition 1.”


Kitchen and other community leaders met at Hope Farmers Market in East Austin in a show of support for the initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot that calls for a 5-cent increase per $100 in property valuation to expand medical resources and improve access to health care countywide.


Juanita Stephens, a member of the board of BiGAustin (or Business Investment Growth), a nonprofit organization that caters to small businesses, drew from her bout with breast cancer and struggle with diabetes to illustrate the importance of having accessible care. “That really means the difference between life and death,” she said. “It’s vitally important that we have that access for all women and not just those who can afford health insurance.”


Travis Democratic Party Executive Director Laura Hernandez noted that “the potential for even basic improvements could especially be important for women who are juggling some combination of jobs, school, and kids.”


Ann Howard, Austin Ending Community Homelessness Coalition’s executive director, pointed to the job-creation potential she said would be brought by the proposition. “Access to housing and health care eventually drives down the costs related to emergency medicine, to jail beds, and to EMS services,” she said. “It drives up earned income.”


Despite the stated focus on women’s issues, the event also illustrated the broad base of support that proponents of the increase, known as Proposition 1, have collected – and the wide swath of voters that they are aiming for. Indeed, each of the speakers took time during their remarks to list off a handful of supporting organizations. Before Thursday’s event, prop. 1 supporters had collected the endorsements of more than 30 democratic clubs, nonprofits and other key regional entities.


If the measure is approved by voters, Central Health’s slice of area property taxes would increase from 7.89 cents per every $100 of valuation to 12.9 cents. The proceeds of that increase would go to fund 26 programs, including an obstetrics navigator program for vulnerable and/or high-risk pregnancies, women’s cancer care and navigation programs, and pediatric diabetes efforts.


In theory, these could be attached – and/or enhanced – by the creation of a University of Texas medical school, a project that prop. 1 and medical-school partisans suggest would further the reach of health care into the community.


Central Health will also submit the bulk of the funds raised through the tax increase to a federal Medicaid waiver program. If approved, the waiver would earn the district another $1.46 for every $1 it raises in the tax election. Proposition 1 supporters suggest that the community potential of the medical school, combined with the tax increase, and the federal Medicaid waiver program, present area voters with a once-in-a-generation path to transforming health care in the region.


Speaking as an individual and not for the organization, Sarah Wheat, who serves as vice president of Community Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, referenced  local women’s health programs. “As those programs become increasingly targeted by the Legislature, it is vitally important that here in Austin our community partnerships are able to fill the gap and make sure that women can continue to access those services,” Wheat said.


Despite the long list of endorsements and the broad base of support, the proposition has its detractors. The Travis County Taxpayers Union – whose treasurer is Republican Don Zimmerman – has an online presence and a campaign that calls on taxpayers to “stop the bleeding.” Zimmerman also co-authored an op-ed piece that appeared in the Austin American-Statesman. 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,” he wrote.


Still, with the support that Prop. 1 has earned, its proponents’ biggest struggle might yet be whether voters will get far enough down the impressively long general election ballot to vote for the measure on Nov. 6.


View sample ballots on the Travis County Clerk’s website.

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