House Democrats host public forum on budget

Posted on: 8/9/17

Left to right at the House Democrat public forum are Patti Davis, OU Medical System; Jason Bray, McAlester Regional Health Center; and Brett Coble, president of the Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers, representing nursing homes.
Oklahoma House Democrats hosted a public budget hearing Thursday, Aug. 3, days before the Oklahoma Supreme Court considered arguments challenging the constitutionality of four revenue-raising measures passed this session. More than 100 onlookers were in attendance, many who spoke about how recent budget cuts have affected them, particularly in the areas of health care and education.

Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, began by reiterating the caucus’ call for adopting the Restore Oklahoma budget plan should the Legislature have to meet in special session if the court finds those funding measures unconstitutional. Part of the Democrat plan unveiled during the 2017 legislative session including “raising the cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack so long as it was part of a broad-based revenue and budget package,” according to House Democrat Leader Scott Inman. OHA supports raising the cigarette tax and urged the Legislature to support it as a free-standing measure.

Oklahoma hospitals were represented by Jason W. Bray, CIO, McAlester Regional Health Center, and Patti Davis, senior vice president of strategy & business development, OU Medical System. Both speakers provided informative overviews of the effects on patient services due to the constant cuts in Medicaid.

Bray pointed out to lawmakers that McAlester Regional Health Center sees more than 70,000 patients a year, and of those, close to 15,000 are Medicaid patients. Additionally, 500 babies were delivered last fiscal year, and 358, or 70 percent, were Medicaid! Bray added that lower reimbursements have caused lower income for the hospital, which goes directly to getting and keeping needed staff/physicians and investing in infrastructure to support patient needs. These investments ensure patients won’t need to travel to receive care in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, where wait times to be seen have astronomically increased, he said.

Davis put the importance of adequate Medicaid funding in context for legislators with information such as: 70 percent of babies born at OU Children’s Hospital are paid for by Medicaid. This compares to 57 percent across Oklahoma. Additionally, 1,224 of Oklahoma’s smallest and sickest babies spent an average length of stay of 23.6 days in the 96-bed NICU, while 17 percent of Level One trauma patients are covered by Medicaid. OU Medical System has provided care to patients in every county in Oklahoma.

Davis closed by reminding legislators about the importance of hospitals as businesses and the health care contribution to the state’s economy. She pointed out that according to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the health care sector is the number two employer behind government in the Oklahoma City metro. There are approximately 67,500 employed in the health care sector in the 10-county greater Oklahoma City region. A recent study by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, citing the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, shows that since 2001, health care jobs are the top employer and has led all other sectors in terms of growth in the number of employees. (Lynne White)

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