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OKLAHOMA – A group of health care providers are trying to find a solution after the state’s budget crisis threatened to affect Oklahomans on Medicaid.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority recently announced a proposed 25 percent cut in provider rates for those treating Medicaid patients.

Some believe that step will lead to the state’s most vulnerable being denied care.

“The budget cuts as proposed would close our facility and would close 93 percent of nursing homes in our state,” said Brett Coble with Westbrook Healthcare.

At a meeting Wednesday morning, health care leaders said 16,000 nursing homes are on the line, adding that hospitals could be forced to close their maternity wards.

“We deliver about 900 babies a year. Seven out of 10 of those babies are Medicaid babies,” said Chuck Skillings, president of Saint Anthony’s Hospital in Shawnee.

Now, these health care leaders are hoping to do two things: curb smoking and keep hospitals and nursing homes open.

“I think it’s a win-win for Oklahoma. It gives us the ability to fund those services to our most brittle population and maybe influence the smoking rate in the state,” Skillings said.

They are asking lawmakers to increase the cigarette tax by $1.50 a pack.

“It’s the best option I’ve heard on the table. Now, if there was something better, we’d certainly like to hear it,” said Nico Gomez, CEO and president of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is also proposing a state-run insurance plan that would use $900 million in federal money and $100 million in state money.

“We have to act now. We cannot kick this can down the road. Otherwise, we’re going to be facing catastrophes for providing services across the state,” said President of the Oklahoma Hospital Association Craig Jones.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority board will meet on May 12.

A decision on the proposed budget cut could be made then.