Federal cuts to affect state

Saturday, February 12th 2005, 2:21 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's economic upturn has led to a decision by the federal government to slash Medicaid health services by about $65 million a year, state health officials said.

If the loss is not restored, mental health officials say services may have to be cut for 150 people a month by fall. About 550 people a month are now turned away from community mental health centers, state Secretary of Health Terry Cline said.

This comes at a time when other indicators show the state is not doing so well. Oklahoma's food stamp rolls continue to increase, said Phil Motley, budget director of the human services department.

``We set a new all-time high each month,'' Motley said.

Hardest-hit would be the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the huge Medicaid program serving Oklahoma's poor and elderly. The Department of Human Services would lose $12 million.

In fiscal year 2004, Oklahoma's Medicaid rolls reached an all-time high of nearly 670,000 people.

Medicaid provides free or reduced-price health care for low-income children, pregnant women, the disabled and senior citizens.

State leaders are looking to the state Legislature to make up the federal loss.

Gov. Brad Henry in his State of the State address this week urged the state to make up the shortfall in lieu of cutting services.

State Finance Director Scott Meacham is optimistic the next state budget can provide the additional dollars, though many demands are being placed on the new dollars.

Officials estimate there will be $370 million more in the next state budget, due in part to high oil prices.

``I think, out of $370 million, we can find money to maintain our Medicaid program,'' Meacham said.

Priorities in the governor's budget include raises for teachers, and Democrats and Republicans are pushing for tax cuts.

The state's Medicaid loss is due to a reduction in what is called the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage. Nationwide, Oklahoma's loss of federal dollars is fourth-largest.

``The assumption is that larger states' per capita incomes suffered greater than Oklahoma's in the post 9/11 economy,'' said Nico Gomez, spokesman for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

Health Care Authority officials went to Washington to talk with Oklahoma's delegation about the shortfall.

``Unfortunately, our delegation is not in the best position with some of the key committees dealing with this problem,'' Gomez said.

Other states hard hit by the new formula include Alaska, which has a key member on the health committee that funds Medicaid.

``We are trying to find a champion for our cause in Washington,'' Gomez said.

Health Care Authority officials said Thursday they would like Congress to agree that states should never have to absorb more than a 1 percent adjustment in a year's time. Oklahoma's proposed loss is 2.27 percent.

``We have to stay on this,'' said Health Care Authority board member Lyle Roggow of Enid. Roggow was among those who went to Washington last week to talk to Oklahoma's delegation.