Health care needs have reached critical stage (Norman Transcript)

By Kenneth Wells

Once again, the Republican-led Oklahoma legislators are leaving Oklahoma’s neediest in the dust with their proposed 2014-2015 budget.

Studies by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services project a steep decline in services for a wide section of Oklahoma’s most needy. (You do not need to be on public assistance to need the services of these two state agencies.) Not one attempt is being made to provide assistance in keeping projected cuts from happening to these critical state agencies.

The Oklahoma Healthcare Authority has compiled a list of measures it must take to address cuts to their budget for Fiscal Year 2015. Included are:

· Eliminating all optional medical benefits — including adult dental care, foot care, eye care, physical therapy and hearing, as well as medical supplies such as wheelchairs and diabetic supplies for a $10 million state savings.

· Coverage limitations for prescription drugs, doctor and hospital visits, other services and copayment rate increases with required prior authorization for certain patient services for a savings of $89 million.

· Lowering rates of reimbursement to providers who serve Medicaid patients. (A 1 percent, across-the-board provider rate cut would generate $8.9 million.) This means that cuts of approximately 9 percent would need to be made to address the $90 million shortfall. (The policy of provider-care-rate cuts has been hotly contested at the federal level.)

Any of these cuts just pushes the costs further down the road because people will delay medical attention until a critical stage is reached. What is sad is that the $90 million shortfall in state funding is simply a part of, and does not address, the $373.7 million in total cuts faced because of the loss of federal matching funds. (The loss of said matching funds is due to Gov. Mary Fallin and the legislature refusing to endorse the Medicaid portion of the Affordable Care Act.)

The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and Department of Human Services also need additional funds in FY 2015 to make up for declining federal matching support for Medicaid programs they operate and other unavoidable cost increases.

Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services needs an additional $20.9 million while Department of Human Services needs an additional $8.3 million just to make up for lost Medicaid federal funds (information reported by the Oklahoma Policy Institute).

We should remember that Oklahoma’s federal match also is decreasing due to an increase in the state’s per capita income.

Again, the Oklahoma Policy Institute reminds us that the federal government is subsidizing us less because our state’s relative prosperity can provide this resource to take care of our own. Are we not taking care of our own because we are claiming “we cannot afford it,” or is it because “we are choosing not to?”

If significant health care cuts are to be averted, the Oklahoma legislature will need to put revenue-generating options on the table.

The OK Policy Institute recently laid out seven options, which would include curbing tax breaks, tapping a rainy day fund and accepting federal funds to expand health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Doing so would shift costs to the federal government, which are now being paid entirely or partly with state dollars.

Although each of these options are viable, none is likely to receive serious consideration, unless those who would be affected by health care cuts and those who care about our fellow Oklahomans’ health make their voices heard loudly and quickly in the weeks ahead, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

The unfunded real cost of health care in Oklahoma is a man-made situation that can be solved by men and women who have an honest desire to ensure all of Oklahoma’s citizens are healthy and well educated.

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