March 14, 2013

Riverside lawmakers renew push for medical school funds

BY JULIE SMALL | KPCC Southern California Public Radio

Last year, UC Riverside won approval to extend its two-year medical program to four years. University officials now say they need a long term commitment from the  state to sustain the program.

Fifteen million dollars a year for the next ten years ought to do it — and two Riverside lawmakers are trying to secure the funds.

Senator Richard Roth and Assemblyman Jose Medina took their request to the Senate’s Higher Education Committee Wednesday. The money would be paired with an annual $10 million from local government and private donors. 

“As a state we have no choice but to look as hard as we can for that $15 million,” Senator Roth told the committee. 

Roth says California needs to graduate more doctors to be able to treat the millions of residents expected to gain health care next year under the federal Affordable Care Act.  “Otherwise,” he warned, “we will have in Inland Southern California over 500,000 — and many more in California — enrolled folks, entitled to health care, without providers to provide it.”

UC Riverside officials have been trying to get long-term state funding for the medical school since 2008. Because of newly-drawn districts, for the first time the university has Democrats — who firmly control the budget — representing them in the legislature. But that doesn’t make it a slam-dunk.

Senator Roderick Wright (D-LA)  balked at the suggestion that the state could find an extra $15-million annually for higher education.

“Who do you want to take the money from?” he asked Roth. “Would you say the medical school is more important, therefore I’m prepared to take your $15 million that the Governor proposed to allocate to you and move it over there?”

Roth and Assemblyman Medina have each introduced bills to allocate the $15 million for the medical school. Medina’s Assembly Bill 27 goes before the Assembly Higher Education Committee next Tuesday.

UC Riverside has long offered a joint program with UCLA, where students spend the first two years in Riverside and the last two in Westwood.  UC Riverside's first class of four-year medical students starts in the fall.


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