? Medicaid costs in the state are second only to education expenditures

By Robert Barron

CNHI News Service

ENID ? The rising cost of health care in Oklahoma is a concern to everyone, both consumers and providers.

Medicaid costs in the state are second only to education expenditures, totaling $3 billion in federal and state money. Two state representatives working on a way to reform the Medicaid system say they will continue to provide services while keeping costs down.

State Reps. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, and Doug Cox, R-Grove, are members of a task force set to study the system and work on reform legislation next session. They are touring the state to get input from local medical providers and consumers of Medicaid services.

Steele is chairman and Cox is co-chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee. They were joined in their meetings Tuesday by Reps. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, and Curt Roggow, R-Hillsdale.

There are six areas of Medicaid to be addressed, Steele said. Those areas are long-term care, prescription drug program, patient empowerment and access to quality health care, chronic disease management, emergency room, primary care management and provider rates.

A variety of programs will be introduced to address each segment of the legislation, he said.

The group has heard from physicians and hospital administrators, Steele said, and will meet with Department of Human Services personnel who assist consumers with applications and with consumer to discuss problems with the system. Everyone is experiencing an increase in medical costs, Steele said. The task force plans to study programs that have worked in other states.

Cox said some consumers have voiced the same concerns as physicians, such as the lack of continuity of care, although the system seems to work well for children. However, some specialists do not take referrals of Medicaid patients, he said.

Steele discussed establishing incentives for proper use and deterrents for improper use, such as using an emergency room for primary care. One incentive may be for physicians who stay open late hours.

There also is a problem with transportation. The state Medicaid system has a system called Sooner Ride that will transport consumers to the physician. Regular visits must be scheduled about three days in advance. It also is available for emergency visits. The telephone number is available on the back of Medicare cards.

The goal of any reforms is not to reduce eligibility, Cox said.

"The cost of technology and the patients' demand for technology are one factor driving the cost up," Cox said.

Today, patients demand high-cost procedures immediately, when less-costly measures may fix the problem, he said.

The Legislature also is looking at addressing the increasing costs of health care, through tort reform and other measures, he said.

The task force meets bi-weekly, and Steele hopes to propose legislation to address the problems next Legislative session.

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