Oklahoma governor, GOP leaders open to Medicaid expansion
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s new Republican governor and GOP leaders in the House and Senate expressed willingness on Wednesday to consider some version of a Medicaid expansion that would extend health insurance to tens of thousands of Oklahoma’s uninsured.
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt opposed the idea on the campaign trail but told reporters Wednesday during The Associated Press’ annual legislative forum that he was open to the concept if the state was given enough flexibility.
“I’m going to be very careful where I don’t put Oklahoma in a tough situation ... where we’re stuck providing more government services and a billion dollar price tag,” Stitt said about the idea of expanding Medicaid. “We’ve got to be very careful, but absolutely.”
The issue of Medicaid expansion has been a thorny one for Oklahoma Republicans, many of whom see the benefits the increasing federal funds would bring to the state’s health system but who also have demonized the Affordable Care Act on the campaign stump. The federal government would offer a 9-to-1 match for state funds to pay for the expansion, but Stitt and GOP leaders said they want the ability to opt out of the expansion if the state’s share became much larger.
“Access to health care is an extremely important issue, and we’re going to have those conversations,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “We need to make sure that we as a state can afford whatever solution we come up with, long-term.”
House Speaker Charles McCall also said he’s open to the idea of seeking a federal waiver that would allow Oklahoma to develop its own expansion plan.
“I think this is very encouraging news,” said Patti Davis, president of the Oklahoma Hospital Association. “Clearly we have an urgent need, especially in rural areas.”
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have said they fully support a Medicaid expansion that could potentially provide health insurance to tens of thousands of uninsured adults. Under current Oklahoma law, non-disabled adults must earn less than $4,621 annually to qualify for Medicaid. Under an expansion, an adult could earn up to about $23,100 and still receive coverage through Medicaid.
About one in seven Oklahomans is uninsured, giving Oklahoma one of the highest uninsured rates in the country. Several rural hospitals have been shuttered in recent years, and many others are currently operating at a loss and are at risk of closure.
Stitt also said reducing the state’s prison population and expanding the governor’s power to hire and fire agency directors would be top priorities for him during the legislative session that begins Monday.
He said he wants to increase funding for programs to divert criminals from prison and to expedite pardons and paroles. He also wants to eliminate the use of fees, fines and court costs to directly fund court and prosecutor’s offices, eliminating the incentive for prosecutors to file more cases to bolster their funding.
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