Gov. Mary Fallin has been clear — people need access to accurate information about the Affordable Care Act, the Oklahoma secretary of health said Tuesday night at a health care forum.
“She wants to make sure that people have access to accurate information,” said Dr. Terry Cline, the state's health commissioner. “The Affordable Care Act is the law. It's a federal law. It's in place. Whether you like that or not, this is the law of the land. And (we) need to make sure people have accurate information.”
Cline was one of two panelists at a community forum that Oklahoma Watch, a journalism nonprofit, hosted Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.
Former state Sen. Andrew Rice, the executive director of the Variety Care Foundation, joined Cline as audience members and journalists asked the leaders for answers about the Affordable Care Act.
The act, sometimes known as Obamacare, is a federal health care law passed in 2010 that was later deemed largely constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2012.
Cline was asked whether state agencies were doing their part to educate Oklahomans on the Affordable Care Act — for example, how to enroll in the health care marketplaces on Oct. 1.
Cline said the state Health Department is supplying residents who ask with federal resources, such as Healthcare.gov and also (800) 318-2596, a health care exchange hotline organized through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Audience members asked a range of questions, some personal and some political.
One question posed was, “Do you think the governor rejecting Medicaid expansion was a mistake?”
It referenced Fallin's decision in November not to expand Medicaid, a fiercely debated decision among residents, lawmakers and health care leaders.
Originally, the Affordable Care Act mandated that states expand their Medicaid programs to include more uninsured adults. But the Supreme Court ruled the federal government couldn't mandate an expansion. Thus, states had a choice.
Fallin said the state would not expand Medicaid because it would be too costly in the long run to Oklahoma, costing Oklahoma $475 million between 2012 and 2020.
On Tuesday, Cline said he thought Fallin made the right choice.
“One thing people need to realize is Oklahoma has had the option of expanding Medicaid since the inception of the Medicaid program,” Cline said.
But in Oklahoma, it hasn't been the will of the Legislature or the will of the people, in terms of prioritizing health care for all people in the state of Oklahoma, he said. Additionally, he said, the Legislature has increased the Medicaid budget incrementally throughout the years.
Rice disagreed, saying he thought it was a mistake that would cost the state more in the long run.
“This is the most expensive part of the population, the people who would be covered under Medicaid expansion,” Rice said. “We are actually costing ourselves way more money by not covering them. It's a huge, huge, bad mistake as far as an investment.”