OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision to reject a Medicaid expansion that would have made health coverage available to roughly 200,000 uninsured low-income, working class Oklahomans has left health officials scrambling to come up with alternative ways to make health care available to this population.
Although no concrete proposals have been developed, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority on Thursday approved a $500,000 sole-source contract with Utah-based health consultant Leavitt Partners to develop ways to target the nearly 20 percent of Oklahoma’s population that have no health insurance. The contract is expected to begin on Feb. 1, and OHCA officials say they hope the group can develop recommendations the Legislature will be able to enact before the session concludes at the end of May.
Fallin drew praise from tea party groups and conservative lawmakers when she announced in November that Oklahoma would reject the Medicaid expansion allowed under President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care law, citing the costs to both the state and federal government. The expansion would have allowed Oklahomans earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $30,000 for a family of four, to be eligible. Under current law, only children in families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level are Medicaid eligible. For adults, the eligibility level is 37 percent of federal poverty.
But her decision was criticized by hospital and other health officials who contend the costs of caring for Oklahoma’s uninsured already is falling on hospitals in the form of uncompensated care and leading to higher health care costs for the insured.
The governor has said she supports an “Oklahoma-based solution” to address the problem of Oklahoma’s uninsured, and her Secretary of Health Terry Cline said he expects to work with Leavitt Partners and other health industry stakeholders to focus on improving the health of Oklahomans rather than just expanding coverage.