Improving Access to Health Care Key Role in 2002 Legislature

Article excerpt

Improving access to health care played a key role in the 2002 Oklahoma legislative session, as evidenced by several measures that will take effect on or by July 1.

Senate Bill 1635 addresses the growing number of uninsured Oklahomans. The measure, authored by Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson, R- OKC, and Rep. Fred Stanley, D-Madill, creates the Oklahoma Health Care Access Act.

It directs the state Health Department to develop a plan to increase access to health care for all Oklahomans. The plan will include expanding the number of health care volunteers and exploring public-private partnerships as a method of increasing health care.

The Legislature also took action to ensure long-term health care services within the state.

Senate Bill 820, by Sen. Penny Williams, D-Tulsa, and House Speaker Emeritus Loyd Benson, D-Frederick, establishes a Joint Legislative Oversight Committee for Oklahoma Long-Term Care.

The committee will be composed of 10 state lawmakers, five each from the House and the Senate. It will review and make recommendations concerning proposals for long-term care services in this state, including those from the Continuum of Care Task Force and other state agencies.

Nursing care facilities will have more flexibility in providing staffing under House Bill 2218, authored by Williams and House Minority Floor Leader Fred Morgan, R-OKC. The legislation postpones a planned increase in the direct care staff-to-resident ratio by one year, to September 2003, and makes the implementation of the ratio increase subject to availability of funds.

Morgan said many facilities would not have been able to meet the new guidelines because of a shortage of Medicaid funds. The compromise legislation maintains current levels of care.

After Jan. 1, 2004, the law will allow a nursing home to use flexible staffing or 24-hour staffing if the facility has consistently met the new staffing ratios. The measure also sets a minimum service rate for facilities using the flexible staffing.

House Bill 2162, by Rep. Bill Paulk and Sen. Keith Leftwich, both D-OKC, creates a Nursing Workforce Task Force in an attempt to reverse the statewide and nationwide trend of a shrinking supply of nurses. More than one-fourth of the nurses in the United States are between the ages of 45 and 54, and it is projected that over the next 10 years 40 percent of the registered nurse work force will be above the age of 50. …