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Expansion of MU medical program hinges on tobacco tax vote

Thursday, September 27, 2012 | 1:55 p.m. CDT; updated 7:40 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 27, 2012

*David Barbe is division president of Mercy Clinic Springfield. His title was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

COLUMBIA — A $43 million price tag for construction and operating costs of expanding MU's clinical campuses is hinging on Proposition B for funding, according to information provided to the UM System Board of Curators. 

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Some revenue raised by Proposition B would go toward creating a clinical campus program in Springfield and constructing a medical education building at MU. The measures would increase MU's medical class size by nearly 30 percent, edging annual enrollment up from 96 students to 128. 

The proposition, which is on the Nov. 6 ballot, would tax $0.0365 per cigarette, 25 percent of the manufacturer's invoice price for roll-your-own tobacco and 15 percent for other tobacco products. Part of the revenue would go to public schools and universities. 

Weldon Webb, associate dean of the MU School of Medicine, said the tax revenue would cover a majority of the cost of expanding class size and starting the new clinical campus.

"The project has always been dependent on funding," he said. "At this point in time, that determines the timeline. The main possibility at this moment is the tobacco tax funding, if it passes. If not, we will have to go back to legislative sessions in January and attempt to get funding there."

The clinical campus program is a partnership between MU and the CoxHealth and Mercy health systems in Springfield. Medical students in the program would spend two years in Springfield doing clinical work. 

The increase in enrollment would address the shortage of physicians in Missouri, according to an economic impact study prepared by Thomas Johnson. According to the study, the plan would add 300 physicians in Missouri, create 3,500 jobs and add more than $390 million to the state's economy.  

*"Our country and Missouri, in particular, are facing a looming shortage of physicians," David Barbe, division president of Mercy Clinic Springfield, said. "Expanding the medical school class that places more physicians in Missouri than any other medical school in the state seems to be the best way to increase the number of physicians in the state."

Barbe said the program was important because of an aging population and the expansion of health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. He said the clinical campus program would be started once funds were attained. 

"We have been waiting for the right time, the right situation and the right partnership to find a way to attain funding the capital needed," Barbe said. "It looks like the tobacco tax may do that."

Webb said he had no qualms about the source of the money.

"As Missouri's premier public medical school and the number one provider of physicians for our state, it makes sense to invest public funding in our plans to enhance health, education and the economy throughout Missouri," he said. "How public funding is provided is up to the voters and their elected officials."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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