Hendrick to tackle health care woes

Monday, January 28th 2002, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The timing of recent pay raises for top employees at the financially plagued Oklahoma Health Care Authority is ``regrettable'' but understandable, Gov. Frank Keating said Monday.

Disclosure last week of more than $500,000 in pay raises came a few weeks after the Health Care Authority announced $11 million in health care cuts that impact the poor and elderly.

Keating said the pay raises to 161 employees, effective last July 1, were approved at a time when no one could have foreseen the drop in natural gas prices that has left a hole in the state budget. The state taxes natural gas production.

``It's an easy issue to demagogue on,'' Keating said of criticism of the pay raises. He said he did not know if the increases could legally be rolled back, however.

He said his new secretary of health and human services, Howard Hendrick, will be meeting with the Mike Fogarty, head of the authority, to discuss ways of accessing more federal dollars to shore up Medicaid funding.

In all, 161 employees at the health care agency were upgraded in salary this year for a total of $224,700 in state money, which will be matched with $274,700 in federal dollars.

Cuts scheduled by the authority starting in April will reduce or eliminate benefits going to an estimated 50,000 women, children and elderly recipients in Oklahoma.

Legislation permitting Medicaid benefits to children whose families have household incomes of up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level has caused ``an explosion of growth in a system that has limited resources,'' Keating said.

At a news conference Monday, Keating said Hendrick, who is the director of the Department of Human Services, is the right man to deal with problems at the Health Care Authority.

He cited Hendrick role in ``remarkable'' achievements in recent years in the welfare system, including a reduction of 33,000 in welfare cases in 10 years.

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