Disproportionate Share Hospital Program Put To Reality Check

Tuesday, September 1st 2009, 11:25 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

UNDATED -- Almost one out of every five Oklahomans does not have insurance.  Oklahoma hospitals lose tens of millions of dollars every year because of the uninsured.  The federal government sets aside billions to help them out.  But, it appears Oklahoma isn't getting its fair share of the cash.

Back from the brink of death, Oklahoma State University Medical Center has a second chance at life. Almost a year ago, questions about OSUMC's financial health had patients fearing the worst.

At the time, OSUMC claimed caring for uninsured and low-income patients was responsible for their financial bleeding.  It's a burden shared by hospitals across the country.

In 1981, Congress established the Disproportionate Share Hospital program to try to give them some relief.  But, years of political wrangling, politicking and maneuvering by the states has left an uneven map.

Oklahoma has about 3.5 million people, with close to 650,000 of them without insurance.  The state receives $36 million federal dollars to help hospitals blunt the financial impact of the uninsured.

Compare that to Oregon's population which is roughly the same and the number of uninsured is also pretty close, but Oregon gets a $45 million check from the feds or $9 million more.

Rhode Island's population is a third of Oklahoma's.  They have far fewer uninsured with only about 10%  versus Oklahoma's 18.5%.  Yet, they receive almost double what Oklahoma does with a whopping $65 million.

"And, the list goes on and on. The other states, like Rhode Island, others get tremendous amounts," said Oklahoma Congressman John Sullivan.

When Sullivan, a Republican, talks about health care reform, he says that's the kind of reform he believes needs to happen.

"What my bill does is captures money from states who get too much and captures that money before it goes back and uses it for disproportionate share funding in Oklahoma," said Congressman John Sullivan.

That could be a vital infusion of lifeblood to hospitals, like OSUMC.  Keeping them alive so they can continue to save the lives of the most vulnerable in our community.

All of Oklahoma's Congressional delegation has lent their support to this bill.  But, even if it passes, Oklahoma hospitals might not see an extra dime.

That's because it is a federal matching program that requires the state to ante up some money. 

"We cannot predict whether the state will be in a position to afford the state match if and when that opportunity arises," wrote Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Mike Fogarty.