A former state health commissioner joined Oklahoma House Democrats on Monday in calling on GOP Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican legislative leaders to expand access to Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor.
“This is a moral and ethical issue,” said Dr. Mike Crutcher, who served as state health commissioner from 2003 until 2009.“It is the morally and ethically right thing to do — to strive to provide health care to as many as Oklahomans as is absolutely possible,” said Crutcher, who is director of medical quality at Variety Care, a nonprofit community health center that provides health care to low-income families. “Other people in the world do it. Other states in the Union do it, and we should be able to do it also.”
Fallin decided last year not to expand Medicaid coverage, saying it would be unaffordable, costing the state of Oklahoma up to $475 million between now and 2020, and would also further Oklahoma's reliance on federal money that may or may not be available because of federal fiscal problems.
The federal Affordable Care Act originally required that states, beginning in January, expand Medicaid to cover people younger than 65 with income below 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a part of the health care law that penalized states for not expanding Medicare, which meant states could decide whether to participate.
Consultant report due
The state has hired a consultant to look at ways to provide health care coverage to low-income people.
Among other things, Leavitt Partners, a Utah consulting firm, is looking at an Arkansas plan that would channel federal Medicaid money through private insurers.
Fallin said Monday a report from Leavitt Partners is due in June.
“We're exploring all of our options to see what we want to do,” she said. “An Oklahoma plan will work best in Oklahoma to deliver better access to health care and working on the health of Oklahomans.”
Leavitt Partners has been meeting with hospital and insurance company officials across the state, she said.
Last week, the former chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority said he supports Medicaid expansion.
Mike Fogarty, who retired from the agency in March, said he shared factual information with Fallin's office, but never his personal opinion.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, called on Fallin to reconsider her decision, which he said was done for political reasons.
“The issue of health care and taking care of our state citizens is important to everyone,” he said.
Inman said one of every five Oklahomans is uninsured, resulting in hospitals across the state having to provide about $600 million a year in uncompensated care.
House and Senate Democrats support expanding the Medicaid program in the state, which would result in Oklahoma receiving about $8.2 billion of federal funds over 10 years to take care of nearly 200,000 additional residents, he said.
Inman said Fallin and Republican legislative leaders suggest a cut in the state's personal income tax, which would cost the state about $1.4 billion in revenue over a decade, would help stimulate Oklahoma's economy because some of that money would be invested or spent in the state.
That same argument could be made about Medicaid expansion, he said.
“What would $8.2 billion do given directly to one of the largest economic engines in the state of Oklahoma — the health care industry?” he asked.
Inman said the entire hospital system in the state stands to lose $2.9 billion if the state fails to expand Medicaid.
Inman said it is hypocritical for Republican leaders in the state not to expand Medicaid on the grounds of not wanting to receive additional federal funds because Oklahoma already annually receives $3 billion for Medicaid and more than $600 million for education.
“This Medicaid expansion will ensure that the health care of our citizens will continue to improve and not erode,” he said.
Zeke Campfield, Staff Writer
It is the morally and ethically right thing to do — to strive to provide health care to as many as Oklahomans as is absolutely possible.”
Dr. Mike Crutcher,
Former state health commissioner