State health officials expressed concern Tuesday over money that was pulled from an account that pays for uncompensated trauma care delivered in Oklahoma.
While planning out the state’s budget, policymakers moved $5 million from the state trauma care assistance revolving fund to help pay for appropriations for other agencies.
The fund, administered by the Oklahoma Health Department, helps pay physicians, hospitals and emergency medical service providers who deliver millions of dollars in uncompensated health care to Oklahomans who suffer serious and often life-threatening injuries, said Julie Cox-Kain, senior deputy commissioner of the Health Department.
In an example provided by the Health Department highlighting the first six months of 2012 hospitals, EMS providers and physicians were paid $12.3 million from the trauma fund, which covered about half of the uncompensated care they delivered.
“These are lifesaving services that hospitals and EMS providers provide to people without respect to their ability to pay or their insurance status,” Cox-Kain said. “It’s a critical system for us to support.”
The money in the trauma fund comes from a variety of sources, including tobacco tax money, driver’s license fees and motor vehicle fines.
The reason that there was enough money in the trauma fund for the state to pull $5 million relates to how the Health Department disburses the money, Cox-Kain said.
Over the past few years, the Health Department paid trauma care providers in two disbursements each year, paying each provider for six months of uncompensated trauma care services.
Once they were paid, there was usually about $6 million left in the account, Cox-Kain said.
“For somebody who didn’t really understand how the process works, it might look as if every time we make a disbursement, we still have a remaining $5 million or $6 million in the fund, but in actuality that $5 million or $6 million was being collected for the next disbursement period. I can only assume that’s what happened.”
Cox-Kain said Health Department leaders weren’t asked about whether to remove the money. The agency will begin paying providers monthly, rather than every six months.
Since the $5 million was removed, the agency has made cuts to other programs to ensure trauma care providers are compensated. For example, the agency cut the amount of money that it pays federally qualified health centers for uncompensated care. These centers deliver health care to some of Oklahoma’s poorest residents.
John Estus, spokesman at the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said cash transfers similar to the $5 million moved from the trauma fund are common practice in Oklahoma when policymakers are determining the state’s budget.
There was $292 million in transfers made in the 2015 fiscal year budget, Estus said.
“Every year, you can read the general appropriations bill and see plenty of sections titled ‘transfer,’ and that’s where the Legislature identifies money that’s sitting in an account somewhere that would be better used elsewhere and then they transfer that money to be used elsewhere,” Estus said.