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Health Care Associations Back Plan to Stop Medicaid Reimbursement Cuts

A proposal to stop upcoming Medicaid reimbursement cuts by raising cigarette taxes has the backing of two Oklahoma health care associations.

The Oklahoma Hospital Association and the Oklahoma Association of Health Care providers want lawmakers to approve a $1.50 per pack tax hike, which would raise $182 million — enough to halt reimbursement cuts slated for June 1.

Brett Coble with Westbrook Healthcare, a nursing home in Waurika, said the alternative is dire.

"If the health care authority implements a 25 percent, across-the-board reduction in our Medicaid funds, more than 90 percent of the nursing homes in this state will close," Coble said.

Oklahoma Health Care Authority head Nico Gomez made the cigarette tax proposal last week.

Reimbursement cuts would be a major blow to rural hospitals. Eastern Oklahoma Medical Center CEO Michael Carter said a 25 percent cut would amount to a $1 million loss.

"To many organizations, $1 million is not a lot of money, but to a hospital who has total net revenues of $17 million, that's substantial," Carter said.

Carter said part of the problem in maintaining rural access to health care is he must meet the same standards as hospitals like the Mayo Clinic with a lot fewer patients.

"Those standards and compliance measures cost a lot of money, so we, by nature, have high fixed costs and relatively low volume," Carter said.

Carter said if the reimbursement cuts go into effect, entire departments would close and others would see dramatic cuts.

Gomez’s Medicaid rebalancing plan could also cut the uninsured rate by 30 percent by adding more people to Insure Oklahoma and moving thousands on Sooner Care to the insurance marketplace.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.