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Legislature passes bills to boost Medicaid funding

May 16, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Monday, May 11, 2020, file photo, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma House narrowly approved a bill that will increase a fee that hospitals pay from 2.5% to 4% that would generate about $134 million annually to help fund the state's share of Stitt's proposed Medicaid expansion. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
FILE - In this Monday, May 11, 2020, file photo, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma House narrowly approved a bill that will increase a fee that hospitals pay from 2.5% to 4% that would generate about $134 million annually to help fund the state's share of Stitt's proposed Medicaid expansion. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Republican-controlled Oklahoma Legislature gave final approval Friday to two separate measures designed to boost funding for the state’s Medicaid program.

The House narrowly approved a bill that will increase a fee that hospitals pay from 2.5% to 4% that would generate about $134 million annually to help fund the state’s share of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s proposed Medicaid expansion, dubbed Soonercare 2.0.

Stitt wants to take advantage of a block-grant-style Medicaid expansion offered by the Trump administration that would give states more control over Medicaid in exchange for a limit on how much the feds kick in. One requirement that Stitt and other conservative policymakers want to impose would make recipients pay premiums and either work or volunteer in the community. If the Trump administration approves Stitt’s proposal, the Medicaid expansion would take effect July 1.

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But Oklahoma voters will decide June 30 whether to approve a separate citizen-led Medicaid expansion by amending the Oklahoma Constitution to prevent lawmakers from tinkering with it. If approved by voters, this expansion would take effect in July 2021 and would supersede the governor’s proposal.

Also on Friday, the Senate approved a resolution that calls for a public vote on whether to amend the constitution to divert a portion of tobacco settlement money to fund Medicaid. Oklahoma typically receives about $75 million annually under the 1998 agreement between state attorneys general and the country’s largest cigarette manufacturers. If approved by voters, the percentage of tobacco settlement money that currently goes into a fund to help pay for smoking cessation programs and other health initiatives would be reduced from 75% to 25%.

State Rep. Marcus McEntire, a Republican from Duncan, said the state’s 10% share of a Medicaid expansion is projected to cost about $168 million annually.

A Medicaid expansion would extend health insurance to low-income adults who earn up to 133% of the federal poverty level, or $16,970 for an individual and $34,846 for a family of four. The Health Care Authority estimates about 220,000 Oklahomans would immediately qualify, at a total cost of about $1.24 billion annually.

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PUBLIC PENSIONERS PAY BOOST

Most retired school teachers, firefighters and other public workers would receive their first pension increase in 12 years under a bill given final approval in the Senate on Friday.

Senators voted 41-5 for the bill to give a 4% cost-of-living allowance, or COLA, to about 85% of public retirees. Under the bill’s tiered approach, those who retired between two and five years ago would see a 2% boost, while those retired for less than two years would get no increase. It now heads to the governor’s desk.

RED FLAG LAWS

The House overwhelming approved a bill that would prevent local municipalities from implementing so-called red flag laws that allow police or family to ask a judge to take away firearms from people who may pose a danger to themselves or others. The bill passed 77-14 and now heads to the governor.

ABORTION LAWSUITS

The House also sent to the governor a bill that would make it easier to sue abortion providers. The bill would allow relatives of a women having an abortion to sue doctors if it is determined an abortion is performed that results in mental or physical harm or is performed without a pregnant woman’s consent. The bill also prohibits doctors from asking women seeking an abortion to sign a liability waiver.

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