In one of his two joint resolutions with the Oklahoma State Senate, Rep. Scott Biggs authored HJR 1015, which if passed will give November 2018 voters the Oklahoma Rural Health Care Infrastructure Fund to vote on.
Currently there is no co-author from the Oklahoma Senate at this time, but Biggs said when the legislative session starts he will seek someone from the state senate to try and work on this bill.
The bill will give voters the opportunity to approve or reject the repeal of Section 40 of Article X of the state constitution, which established the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund, and add a new section 44 to Article X, to reestablish TSET in addition to the Oklahoma Rural Health Care Infrastructure Fund.
Biggs said this bill will cap the TSET at around $1 billion, and use the master settlement agreement payments which averages around $45-50 million a year to help get access to rural health care.
“Basically it would set up a new type of TSET only its focus will be rural health care and rural hospitals,” Biggs said. “TSET is a successful program, so we would basically copy that and only apply it to rural hospitals and rural health care, and it will have a dedicated funding stream.”
Biggs’ District has many small towns with no hospital access, which means residents have a 30 minute or more drive to get to a doctor. This legislation will help citizens of smaller towns get the healthcare they need, Biggs said.
“There are several components to this and the new rural health care task force will look at assistance to hospitals and look at assistance to rural doctors,” Biggs said. “It is going to have a focus on Tele-Medicine and we are looking at expanding the role of nurse practitioner especially in the rural communities where it takes 20-30 minutes to get to a doctor.”
With the funding coming from an established program, Biggs said there will be no additional taxes and the TSET program will not be cut or hurt, and will continue doing things in the future to help residents out.
Biggs said this is an alternative to rhetoric going around that taxes will need to be raised in order to accomplish this task. He said a board of investors will be created to make sure to hold the program accountable.
The board will have five members including the state treasurer who will be the chair, an appointee of the governor, appointee of the Speaker of the House, appointee of the president pro temppore of the senate and an appointee of the state auditor and inspector.