Oklahoma's legislators and governor need to do the right thing, right now.
Because the Oklahoma Legislature lacked the will to pass a constitutional $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax to generate badly needed revenue during the most recent legislative session, it erased the word "tax" from the bill's title page, wrote "smoking cessation fee" instead, and passed it shortly before the session ended last May – knowing that it wouldn't pass constitutional muster. Which it didn't.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the fee as an unconstitutional tax. This leaves the governor and Legislature scrambling to plug a brand-new $215 million hole in the state budget.
And since the money is taken from health care agencies, it leaves rural state health care in the same position it's been in for several years – without sufficient revenue to support and sustain our core services.
Including the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and the Department of Human Services, Oklahoma health care agencies stand to lose a combined $519 million, including federal matching funds.
This will likely result in at least an 8-percent provider rate cut, on top of the 18 percent of unrestored cuts since 2010.
This will likely result in closing rural hospitals and nursing homes.
This will likely result in eliminating health and mental health/substance abuse services in many areas.
This loss of critical funding will threaten our ability to provide needed care to many Oklahomans.
It's crucial that the Legislature address the need for revenue quickly. Failing to do so will continue to have detrimental consequences for Oklahoma Medicaid patients and their families.
I strongly urge the governor to convene a special session, and I strongly urge legislators to work with each other and with the governor to solve this crisis.
The Republicans blame the Democrats, and the Democrats blame the Republicans. But we cannot continue to let the most vulnerable Oklahomans suffer because of this political madness.
Now is the time for leadership at the Capitol.
Now is the time for Republicans and Democrats to show some political courage, stop pointing fingers, and do the right thing for Oklahoma.
We need a bipartisan and constitutional budget to help restore state health care.
Last spring I called on the Legislature to find new revenue sources. I called on the Legislature to pass the $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax as a tax. I called on the Legislature to consider the proposed fuel tax or the proposed gross production tax increase from 2 percent to something nearer the Texas rate.
Unfortunately, our legislators showed an unwillingness to do the hard work and cast the hard votes necessary to properly and fully fund our health care agencies.
Now is the time to do the right thing for Oklahomans. Now is the time to summon the will, the courage and the fortitude to find new revenue sources.
Rural Oklahomans need it.
Rural communities need it.
Rural health care needs it.
Legislators and Gov. Fallin: Now is the right time to do the right thing.
Landon Hise is CEO of Cordell Memorial Hospital in Cordell.