Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan said Wednesday there is still time for lawmakers to act on a measure that will infuse nearly $300 million into Oklahoma’s healthcare system – including $11 million that many rural hospitals say is necessary for their survival.
Morgan announced that he is ready to name conferees to the Senate-House Conference Committee on Senate Bill 944 but that Senate conferees can’t act until the House grants conference and Speaker of the House Todd Hiett names conferees.
“This legislation is critical to the future of rural hospitals in Oklahoma and to improved access to healthcare for the more than 1.3 million Oklahomans who are either covered by Medicaid or struggle without any health insurance whatsoever,” said Morgan, D-Stillwater. “I sincerely hope the Speaker won’t just turn his back on two out of five citizens in our state. All he has to do, personally, is name conferees and let the legislative process work.”
On Tuesday, the Senate voted unanimously to instruct conference committee members to add language to Senate Bill 944 that will allow hospitals to impose a less than one percent fee on themselves in order to recoup millions of federal Medicaid matching dollars. The fee, it is estimated, will raise $93 million in new state funding that would be matched with $200 million in federal funds.
Officials say that in addition to the 650,000 Oklahomans who are on Medicaid, another 650,000 have no insurance at all. Hospitals that treat Medicaid patients are reimbursed for an average of about 60 percent of their costs. In the case of uninsured Oklahomans, as well, healthcare organizations are often under compensated for the medical attention they provide. These factors limit access to healthcare for these Oklahomans.
Senator Tom Adelson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee on Health and Social Services, explained that when Medicaid patients and the uninsured are treated, doctors and hospitals pass on their uncompensated costs to paying patients through cost-shifting, which officials say increases the cost of health insurance and healthcare costs for all Oklahomans.
A University of Oklahoma Department of Family Medicine study two years ago estimated that nearly $400 million of medical costs are shifted annually from patients who can’t pay to Oklahomans with health insurance.
“Uncompensated care is a hidden tax imposed on those Oklahomans and businesses with private insurance,” Adelson said.
House leaders have claimed that the voluntary fee in the instructions for Senate Bill 944 qualifies the measure as a revenue bill and, thus, can’t be passed in the final week of the session.
Morgan pointed out, however, that the House passed House Bill 1751, another fee measure, just yesterday with the Senate approving it Wednesday and sending it to Governor Brad Henry. Speaker Hiett voted ‘yes’ on the bill.
Morgan said the Speaker needs to set aside his technical argument against addressing this critical issue.
“Taking full advantage of the federal Medicaid dollars available to our state is the morally right thing to do. We can increase access to healthcare services for those in need and lower the cost of healthcare for everyone. Anything less will have to be considered a major failure for this historic session,” Morgan said.