The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Health voted 10-0 on Thursday for the hospital provider fee, a bill written by Republican state Rep. Doug Cox, an emergency room physician from Grove. The bill, endorsed by the Oklahoma Hospital Association, would impose a 2 percent fee on a hospital’s net revenue, which is expected to generate about $105 million. That money would then be used to draw about $220 million federal matching funds.
“Without doing something, there’s going to be more Medicaid cutbacks, which means more hospitals operating in the red,” Cox said. “You can only operate in the red for so long before you have to close.”
Lawmakers last year slashed Medicaid reimbursement rates by 3.25 percent and avoided deeper cuts by using federal stimulus funds and money from the state’s Constitutional reserve fund, but Cox pointed out those funds are not available this year.
The bill prohibits hospitals from passing the cost along to consumers, a provision that Cox said gives the bill a good chance of getting through the Republican-controlled House and Senate.
“This will not increase the cost of being in the hospital, will not increase the cost of medical care and it will not increase the cost of insurance,” he said. “If we don’t pass it, and hospitals continue to lose money by caring for Medicaid patients, those losses are going to be cost shifted to the paying people and the people with insurance.”
A separate House panel on Thursday approved a bill that would consolidate six different state agencies into the Office of State Finance. The House Government Modernization Committee passed the measure by House Speaker Kris Steele on an 11-2 vote, with two Democrats opposed. New Republican Gov. Mary Fallin also has proposed consolidating several state agencies in her executive budget as part of her plan to “right-size” government.
The bill would consolidate the Department of Central Services, Office of Personnel Management, Merit Protection Commission, Department of Libraries, State Employees Benefits Council and the State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board into the Office of State Finance. It now heads to the full House.
“Consolidating central services agencies is a great first step toward the goal of making state government more efficient and responsive to the needs of Oklahoma taxpayers,” said Steele, who predicted the move could eventually save the state millions of dollars.
In other action on Thursday, a Senate committee approved a bill that imposes fines of up to $500 for texting while driving, despite concerns from some members that enforcing the measure would pose problems for law enforcement. A first offense would result in a fine of $175, while second and subsequent offenses would lead to fines of $500. Fines could be doubled if the offense resulted in an accident.
The Senate Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security voted 6-2 for the bill that would allow police to issue a citation only if the motorist were stopped for some other reason. It now heads to the full Senate.
“Many people I’ve talked to have seen a near miss or accident that involved someone not paying attention to the road because they were texting while driving,” said Sen. Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant, who wrote the bill.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokesman Maj. Rusty Rhoades said the agency supports the concept of a ban, but hasn’t taken a position on Ellis’ bill.
Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, one of two Republicans on the committee who opposed the bill, said he’s concerned with government interfering with an individual’s personal rights.