Oklahoma congresswoman announces support for group’s push to expand Medicaid

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As Oklahoma officials and the public weigh the pros and cons of Medicaid expansion, a congresswoman from Oklahoma is voicing her support for the move.

In recent years, there has been a push across the state to expand Medicaid in the Sooner State.

Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2014, Oklahoma has rejected federal money for Medicaid expansion. A bill that would expand Medicaid coverage in the state died in the Legislature last session.

​”Right now, the fact that we’re not accepting Medicaid expansion, we’re turning away over a billion dollars a year annually​,” Yes on 802 Campaign Manager Amber England said.

Volunteers turn in signatures for Yes on 802
Volunteers turn in signatures for Yes on 802

In October, volunteers with ‘Yes on 802’ turned in thousands of signatures in order to get State Question 802, which would expand Medicaid, on the ballot. The group needed 178,000 signatures to move their petition forward.

In the end, the group broke a state record for turning in the most signatures in state history with 313,000. After being analyzed by the Secretary of State’s office, the agency verified 300,000 signatures.

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Opponents of that move say the cost of expanding Medicaid is simply too expensive.

​"Any state that does Medicaid expansion is responsible for 10 percent of the costs, whatever they are​," Jonathan Small, President of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said.

The federal government pays the other 90 percent of the expansion.

Volunteers turn in signatures for Yes on 80
Volunteers turn in signatures for Yes on 802

Last month, the Trump administration announced the “Healthy Adult Opportunity,” which permits states to apply for so-called block grants to cover certain low-income adults, particularly those who gained benefits under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provision.

Federal funding, which is now open-ended, would be capped, with states receiving either a lump sum or a specific amount per enrollee.

The newly issued guidance is targeted at working age, able-bodied adults and does not apply to most of Medicaid’s traditional beneficiaries, including children, seniors or the disabled. However, states that did not expand Medicaid could apply for fixed funding to cover certain low-income adults in their programs.

“I have sought Oklahomans’ input in crafting my administration’s healthcare plan. They have told me that they want more access to care in rural Oklahoma; they want us to address wait times for basic healthcare services for our most vulnerable populations; and they want better care, quality care – not excessive care.

I am also here today, because Oklahomans want their federal tax dollars to be returned to the state and put to work. But efforts to do this through amending our Constitution to force Medicaid Expansion are wrong and will be ineffective and will fail to fix our problems,” Stitt said.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt
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States that opt to receive a set annual amount could keep a portion of any unused funds, though they must show that access to and quality of care has not declined and they must reinvest that money into the Medicaid program. And they could request to add new conditions for eligibility for these recipients, change their benefits, require them to pay more and limit their drug coverage by implementing a list of approved medications.

Among the main concerns about block grant funding is that the lump sum model cannot adjust to economic downturns, when enrollment typically increases, and that both the fixed annual amount and the per person cap versions would have difficulty handling spikes in health care treatment costs.

The agency could work with states to readjust the funding levels under those circumstances, officials said.

Once Gov. Stitt announced his support for the plan, some state leaders spoke out against the move.

“It seems like a desperate attempt to head off what it looks like the voters approve either in June or November,” House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said after the announcement.

“Oklahomans have made it clear they want to vote to decide this issue for themselves. At this point, what we want to know from the Governor is when Oklahomans will be able to vote Yes On 802," The Yes on 802 campaign said in a statement.

The governor said he is worried that if the state question is passed, federal tax dollars will be lost.

“It would be disastrous to our state if it passed. If it passed, we would not be able to take advantage of any of these waivers and different way to administer health care in Oklahoma,” Stitt said.

Governor Kevin Stitt
Governor Kevin Stitt

Now, a Congresswoman from Oklahoma is speaking out against the Trump administration's plans for a Medicaid block grant program.

"I hear from far too many Oklahomans who can't afford the health care they need. Today, Oklahoma has the second-highest rate of uninsured people in the nation. Our state ranks 48th for uninsured children. We cannot continue to let Oklahomans fall through the cracks of our health care system," Rep. Kendra Horn said.

Horn says the plan to block-grant Medicaid would "encourage cuts to health care services, restrict access to health care providers and lifesaving medications, and contribute to hospital closures. Too often, block grants are also misused for political pet projects and to fill holes in the budget."

Instead, Horn threw her support behind the push to expand Medicaid in the state.

Gov. Stitt said he is working with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to begin implementing 'SoonerCare 2.0' by applying for additional federal funds.

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