The budget crisis in Oklahoma is quickly turning into a healthcare crisis.
Doctors, hospitals and nursing homes are warning the 25% cut in Medicaid provider payments set to go into effect June 1 will sharply curtail their ability to deliver care with rural and elderly Oklahomans hit hardest in a state already ranked as worst in the country for healthcare access.
In a statement, Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Nico Gomez said the agency does not take the cuts lightly but has no other options.
“As the state's largest health insurer, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority underpins the entire fabric of the state's health-care system that serves all Oklahomans,” he said. “I worry about the infrastructure of our health-care system in light of these cuts. From a business standpoint, I'm afraid many providers will close their doors to our patients.”
Lawmakers in Oklahoma City are expecting a $1.3 billion hole for the fiscal year 2017 budget, brought about by a struggling energy sector and a series of tax cuts enacted in recent years.
The Oklahoma State Medical Association is advising its doctors to consider dropping out of Medicaid, which would be paying providers only about 65% of the Medicare rate.
The Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers said the cuts would likely leave more than 90% of the state's nursing homes operating at a loss and in danger of closing. Four out of five hospitals would be forced to stop delivering babies, according to the Oklahoma Hospital Association.
The Oklahoma Health Department warns it will eliminate a child abuse prevention program, close five to seven county health departments and zero out the fund that finances community health centers.
The state's Republican governor has steadfastly refused to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. State officials recently developed a plan for expansion that would avert the rate cut.
It would shift thousands of people from Medicaid to private insurance and provide private, subsidized coverage for the uninsured earning less than 133% of the federal poverty level. It would need federal approval, however, and relies on the maintenance of effort requirement of the Children's Health Insurance Program expiring in 2019 as scheduled.