May 2016: Rural hospitals across Oklahoma are in crisis. Each year, Oklahoma hospitals absorb more than $560 million in unreimbursed care for their uninsured and underinsured patients. Wagoner Community Hospital provided $4.3 million in free care to our local residents last year.
Oklahoma has rejected federal matching funds for Medicaid, which makes the problem worse. Instead of our federal dollars paying for health care in Oklahoma, we are paying for health care in other states. Many of our excellent doctors and nurses are leaving the state and not coming back.
With the state of Oklahoma facing a $1.3 billion budget hole, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) has proposed a 25 percent cut in provider reimbursement rates beginning June 1. These cuts could deliver a devastating blow to dozens of hospitals and nursing homes across Oklahoma and the patients they serve.
With the state facing this imminent health care disaster, the Oklahoma Hospital Association is urging lawmakers to support a plan proposed by the OHCA to fix health care. It’s a reasonable solution that would rebalance coverage under Medicaid in Oklahoma. The plan would require lawmakers to pass a $1.50 per pack increase in the cigarette tax.
Raising the cigarette tax would generate an additional $182 million in state funds that would allow Oklahoma to receive a nine to one federal match. The plan would reduce the number of uninsured in Oklahoma by 30 percent. If the state does nothing, up to four out of five Oklahoma hospitals will not deliver babies and more than a dozen Oklahoma hospitals could face closure within a year. Also, nine out of 10 nursing homes would be at risk of closing, dumping more than 16,000 disabled and elderly out on the streets.
If we are to live by the Oklahoma Standard, our legislators must be courageous and make sure we look after our most vulnerable – babies and the elderly.
Oklahoma can prevent this catastrophe by raising the cigarette tax and rebalancing Medicaid. Contact your legislators and tell them to act NOW to save health care. You can also join the movement to make Oklahoma better for everyone at makeOKbetter.org.
Jimmy Leopard is CEO at Wagoner Community Hospital and chairman of the Oklahoma Hospital Association board of trustees.
See more about We Must Prevent a Health Care Disaster: