A state House minority leader Friday requested an Attorney General’s opinion on the constitutionality of legislation that diverted $5 million from a fund earmarked for trauma care assistance.
Specifically, Rep. Mike Shelton, an assistant minority floor leader, asked Attorney General Scott Pruitt whether Section 162 of Senate Bill 2127 violates Article 10, Section 19, of the Oklahoma Constitution.
Section X-19 of the Constitution decrees, in part, that “no tax levied and collected for one purpose shall ever be devoted to another purpose.”
Section 162 of SB 2127, the General Appropriation bill enacted in May, instructs the director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to transfer $5 million from the Trauma Care Assistance Revolving Fund to the Special Cash Fund of the State Treasury.
The $5 million siphoned from the Trauma Care Assistance Fund was part of $292 million that the Republican-controlled Legislature diverted this year from 29 revolving funds and carryover funds in order to balance the state budget. The transfers were made to plug a $188 million shortfall in the budget and to finance $110 million in supplemental appropriations to 11 state entities
Title 63, Section 1-2530.9 of the State Statutes, created the Trauma Care Assistance Revolving Fund. That section stipulates that 90 percent of the funds must be used to “reimburse recognized trauma facilities, licensed ambulance service providers and physicians for uncompensated trauma care expenditures…” The other 10 percent is to be used by the State Health Department “in the furtherance of its powers and duties set forth in the Oklahoma Emergency Response Systems Development Act.”
That section further provides that the funds may be transferred to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority “to maximize Medicaid reimbursement of trauma care. The OHCA is directed by the statute to couple the state funds with federal matching funds “to reimburse hospitals, ambulance service providers and physicians for trauma care...”
Shelton said the Trauma Care Assistance Fund is derived from an array of sources, including taxes on tobacco products (as spelled out in Title 68, Section 402-3), from driver’s license fees, from motor vehicle fines and from boat licenses.
The fund is administered by the State Health Department to compensate physicians, hospitals and emergency medical service providers who provide health care to Oklahomans who suffer serious and often life-threatening injuries. As an example, the Health Department said that during the first six months of 2012, hospitals, EMS providers and physicians were paid $12.3 million from the trauma fund.
The Health Department’s payments cover only about half of what physicians, hospitals and emergency medical technicians spend in providing those services to injured patients. The trauma-care providers are absorbing the other half of those costs.
After the $5 million was diverted from the trauma care revolving fund, the Health Department made reductions in other programs to be able to compensate trauma-care providers.
“As elected officials, it’s important that we read the fine print and follow the law, and spend less time making unnecessary cuts that negatively impact Oklahomans,” Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, said Friday.