House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said something needs to be done to address funding for the state’s medical care but did not specifically lend support for a hospital provider fee this year.
"The provider fee has been out there for several years as a point of discussion,” Benge said. "The bigger picture is that we’re approaching a time when we’re going to have to address medical funding. We’re going to have to address medical funding to maintain our medical infrastructure.”
In his budget proposal for the 2010 fiscal year, Henry proposed a hospital provider assessment as a way to "ease the burden on Oklahoma’s health care systems and ... make great strides in improving our citizens’ overall health.”
Members of the hospital association said a provider fee would make sure hospitals would receive a steady stream of funding, even in rocky budget years.
"With the fluctuation in state budget, hospitals find themselves in a precarious position,” Davis said. "When budgets are slashed, hospitals are the safety nets. Programs are eliminated and hospital emergency rooms become where most people get their health care.”
The concept of a hospital provider fee is not new. In 2005, there was discussion of a provider fee, but those efforts failed.
Rep. Kris Steele, House Speaker-elect, was a member of a task force that looked at how to combat the state’s uninsured population in that year.
At that time, a hospital provider fee didn’t have support because specialty hospitals were not exempt.
Steele said he did not favor the last-minute insertion of a provider fee into the state budget talks.
But the concept is worth revisiting in an interim study, he said.
"I’m open to the provider fee concept; I do believe in the importance of identifying a source of revenue for health care,” said Steele, R-Shawnee.
"But the decision that we absolutely have to have a provider fee is premature. A provider fee will not solve our budget problems. It will do nothing to address the shortfall.”