Health Care Authority cuts programs


Friday, March 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, in an effort to avoid running out of money before the end of the fiscal year, eliminated seven programs for the medically needy Thursday and tightened eligibility requirements for three others.

The cuts affect more than 140,000 Medicaid recipients and will go into effect April 1 unless an impasse over a supplemental spending bill that would pump much-needed cash into the agency is resolved before then.

The cuts could severely affect Medicaid providers as well as Oklahomans who rely on the programs for their medical and dental care and prescription medication.

``It's terrible to have to do this,'' authority member George Miller said,

The agency, which pays millions of dollars in health insurance claims for Medicaid-eligible Oklahomans each month, had just $54,000 in its bank account Thursday morning, said Ann Garcia, the authority's associate director of finance.

``Last week we did run out of funds to pay claims,'' said Mike Fogarty, authority director.

The authority stopped short of eliminating the state's entire Medicaid program, a $2 billion program that provides medical services to more than 430,000 of Oklahoma's neediest citizens.

``What we've just done balances the budget,'' said the authority's vice-chairman, Dr. T.J. Brickner of Tulsa. ``There's really no need to make any motion for cancellation of the program at this time.''

The cuts are the first authorized by the state's Medicaid agency since the health care authority was created in 1995, agency spokesman Nico Gomez said.

``We've never been in this situation before,'' Fogarty said.

Letters informing Medicaid providers that their contracts are being canceled will be mailed immediately, Fogarty said.

But he said letters will not be mailed to recipients until Tuesday to give lawmakers more time to approve emergency funds.

A supplemental spending bill that includes about $13 million for the authority was approved by the House and Senate, but Republicans defeated the emergency clause, delaying the funding for months.

``We would hope that we would not have to send this letter at all,'' Fogarty said.

The cuts will trim the agency's budget by $79.2 million, including $20.4 million in state appropriations. The authority had a $9.2 million shortfall of state funds in January, a shortage that is expected to climb to $21 million by the end of the fiscal year June 30.

Among the programs eliminated was the optional drug program, a $37.5 million prescription drug program for Medicaid participants. Funding includes $8.8 million in state funds.

Also eliminated were optional dental and vision programs, outpatient behavioral health services and inpatient psychiatric hospital services.

Other cuts were made to health and rehabilitative services to the mentally retarded, which will have a ripple effect of eliminating $42 million in federal funds to the Department of Human Services, which helps administer the services.

``This is one of those dominos that takes out a huge revenue source at DHS,'' Fogarty said.

The board also reduced payment adjustments to hospitals that serve a large number of Medicaid recipients and other low income people.

``It may close some hospitals,'' Brickner said.

On Wednesday, Gov. Frank Keating authorized the early transfer of $11.1 million in general revenue funds scheduled to be deposited with the agency next month. Garcia said the money will help pay past-due claims and others scheduled for payment by the end of the month