WASHINGTON — A health care reform bill could mean millions of dollars for the University of California at Merced's proposed medical school, but the university isn't promised a dime.
Serious hurdles remain before UC Merced, or any medical school, can get a check cut from the health care bill approved Saturday by the House. For university officials and San Joaquin Valley lawmakers, this will be more a marathon than a sprint.
"This has still got to be done," Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, said Tuesday, adding that "there are no guarantees in life."
Cardoza and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, are longtime proponents of a UC Merced medical school. Both fought to get medical school funding included in the health care bill, and both cited the medical school provision as an important reason why they supported the controversial health care legislation.
"The valley is one of the fastest-growing regions in the state and deserves the same access to high-quality health care, and a supporting medical school, as found elsewhere in California," UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang said in a statement Tuesday.
The last-minute medical school provision, Section 2539 of the reform bill, illustrates the deal-making common on Capitol Hill. It also shows how devilish legislative details can be.
Potential for competition
One example: The bill offers money to developing medical schools in federally designated "health professional shortage areas."
Numerous portions of Merced County have received this designation, but so have more than 6,000 other regions nationwide.
This means potential competition. Educators at UC Riverside, for instance, are building a new medical school slated to accept its first students in the fall of 2012.
Nationwide, nine developing medical schools are in the process of obtaining accreditation, according to the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. Virginia Tech is developing a medical school in the medically underserved city of Roanoke.
The nine developing schools seeking accreditation does not include those, such as UC Riverside's, that have yet to begin classroom operations.
The House medical school language, in any event, must next survive all the way to the finish line.
The Senate will next take up its version of health care reform. If the Senate passes a bill, House and Senate negotiators will start haggling. The medical school language will matter only if it is included in a final bill signed by President Barack Obama.
"We've received assurances from the (House) speaker and the White House, that they understand this is an imperative," Cardoza said.
Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-383-0006.