Governor Keating should ask his Republican colleagues in the U.S. Congress to restore funding they cut from Medicaid and Medicare before he attempts to raid Oklahoma's tobacco settlement fund to cover up their mistake, according to State Senator Jeff Rabon.
The Hugo legislator is taking exception to the Governor's plan to spend $42 million in tobacco funds on Medicaid reimbursements, noting that such an action would not be necessary if Governor Keating could convince his Republican colleagues in the nation's capital to address the problem they created.
"I'm in favor of doing whatever is necessary to keep rural hospitals open, but before Governor Keating spends Oklahoma's tobacco settlement money, he should go talk to his Republican friends in Washington DC who created this
problem. Raiding the tobacco fund to fix their mistake should be a last resort, not a first course of action. The tobacco money can be used to do other good things for rural Oklahoma," said Senator Rabon.
The lawmaker noted that in the most recent balanced budget legislation passed by Congress last month, money was set aside to offset some of the previous Medicaid and Medicare cuts made by the Republican Congress.
For example, $27 billion will be appropriated over the next 10 years to fill the Medicaid/Medicare gap in states like Oklahoma, with $1 billion being made available immediately. The bulk of the money, some $17 billion, will be appropriated between the years 2000 and 2004.
According to Senator Rabon, Governor Keating should call on Oklahoma's Congressional delegation to secure some of that funding to help rural hospitals in their home state.
"If Oklahoma's delegation in Washington DC and Governor Keating work very hard to access that money, not a single rural hospital will have to close. That will leave us with tobacco money left over to use on other pressing needs," said Senator Rabon.
"We can't continue to pick up the slack of programs that are controlled by the Congress in Washington."
He suggested that Governor Keating pledge to spend the same amount of tobacco funds on REAP, a highly successful rural economic development program, after he obtains the federal funds necessary to help rural hospitals.
"Dollar for dollar, nothing is more cost-effective or beneficial to rural Oklahoma than the REAP program. If the Governor will commit to invest that $42 million in REAP and go after the federal funds we need to save our rural hospitals, he will truly have done some good for rural Oklahoma," said Senator Rabon.