Health care funding reductions could lead to cutbacks, closures

Thursday, April 10th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Reductions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements could lead to cutbacks in health care services and the possible closure of some hospitals, lawmakers were warned Wednesday.

In a meeting with legislators, members of the Oklahoma Hospital Association said reductions in state Medicaid funding are projected to be $57.3 million for fiscal year 2004.

In October, $3.4 million in Medicaid cuts were made to Oklahoma hospitals when patient-day limits were cut from 24 to 15.

The lower reimbursements by the state mean that some of Oklahoma's 125 acute-care general hospitals may have to cut back in areas such as obstetrics, ambulance service and home health care, said Randy Segler, OHA chairman and chief executive of Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Lawton.

``They'll have to take a hard look at ancillary services that are not financially viable,'' Segler said.

Rural hospitals are the most likely candidates for any possible closures, he said.

More than 55 percent of the Lawton hospital's revenues, for example, come from Medicare and Medicaid. Some Oklahoma rural hospitals rely on Medicare and Medicaid for 70 percent or more of revenues.

Medicaid provides health care services for 626,077 Oklahomans. One-in-six Oklahomans relies on Medicaid for some type of medical service.

``A hospital is an extremely important part of any Oklahoma community. A hospital is one of the top employers in a community, the backbone of the local economy,'' Segler said.

``The ripple effect of a closure would negatively impact local doctors, pharmacies and nursing homes.''

Lower Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements are among the reasons cited for staff reductions at Via Christi Oklahoma Regional Medical Center in Ponca City, members said.

Medicaid service reductions heavily impact emergency rooms and will cause many patients to postpone treatments, OHA members said.

Segler said Medicaid and uninsured patients are flooding hospitals.

``We're extremely busy right now. We're still that medical safety net,'' he said.

By law, general hospitals must operate emergency rooms.

``Our costs are going up, but our reimbursements are going down,'' Segler said. ``Our ability to financially operate is becoming more difficult.''

Among other things, OHA representatives asked officials to:

_ Find financial solutions for the Medicaid program

_ Enact laws governing where health care facilities can be built and,

_ Adopt higher standards for HMO financial solvency.

_ Reform medical malpractice insurance premiums.

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