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June 29, 2013

Consultant says state could save $400 million by expanding health coverage to low-income residents

NORMAN — State government could expand health coverage to 200,000 or more lower-income residents and save itself more than $400 million over 10 years by developing a model program relying mainly on private insurers and federal subsidies.

Those are among the key findings of Leavitt Partners, a Utah-based consulting firm hired by the state to explore alternatives to the Obama administration’s proposed Medicaid expansion, which Gov. Mary Fallin has rejected.

“It’s a very Oklahoma approach … leveraging (federal) funds to develop a program that best meets the needs of your state,” said Laura Summers, director of state intelligence for Leavitt Partners.

Leavitt’s recommendations, presented Thursday to the

Oklahoma Health Care Authority, might provide Fallin with a way to expand health-care coverage for the poor without appearing to reverse her earlier decision to forego the Obama plan.

Alex Weintz, press secretary for Fallin, said the governor would review the Leavitt proposal with legislative leaders “to explore where consensus can be found and how the state can best move forward.”

The Leavitt group gave high marks to the state’s existing Medicaid program for the poor, called SoonerCare, which it said “provides good health care coverage to approximately one quarter of Oklahoma’s population.”

Nearly 1 million Oklahomans are enrolled in SoonerCare. But it is not open to working-age adults with no dependent children, and its income limits for parents are considerably lower than those proposed by the Obama administration.

The state oversees another program called Insure Oklahoma, which helps provide health coverage to about 30,000 state residents by combining federal, state, employer and participant contributions.

The future of Insure Oklahoma is in doubt because the federal government has refused to continue funding it as currently structured. Unless the state can obtain a waiver, which so far it has been unable to do, Insure Oklahoma will be terminated on Dec. 31.

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