WASHINGTON — A group spearheaded by the Oklahoma Hospital Association has launched a public-relations campaign aimed at persuading state officials to expand the Medicaid program — though the campaign studiously avoids using the word Medicaid.
The group, Oklahomans for a Healthy Economy, has established a website and financed a radio ad that says Washington is about to spend $8.6 billion on health care in Oklahoma and that the money will be spent in other states if Oklahoma rejects it.
“Oklahoma needs this money to improve our health care system, to cover more Oklahomans, to reduce the cost of coverage and create over 15,000 jobs,” the ad says.
“We pay our taxes. This is our money. And we can spend it better than Washington politicians. So let's get together and make a plan for Oklahoma's health care money.”
Neither the ad, nor the group's website, uses the word Medicaid, the name of the federal-state health care program for the poor.
The strategy of framing the issue as the rejection or acceptance of federal money — rather than pitching it as Medicaid expansion — appears to be supported by a recent survey done for the Oklahoma Hospital Association.
That survey, by the Oklahoma City firm CMA strategies, showed 51 percent of those polled said Oklahoma should definitely or probably accept the money, with 35 percent saying the money should definitely be accepted.
Of the 500 Oklahomans polled last week, 30 percent said the money should definitely be turned down, while 4 percent said it should probably be rejected; 15 percent were undecided.
A bare majority of Republicans opposed accepting the money, while a strong majority of Democrats favored it.
A brief analysis of the poll results by CMA Strategies says: “When framed not as an expansion of Medicaid, but rather as accepting or rejecting federal money, a majority of Oklahomans favor accepting the money.”
Fallin rejected expansion
Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, announced in November that Oklahoma would not accept the Medicaid expansion funding, which was part of the health care law approved in 2010. The expansion was originally mandatory under the law, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the law last year made it optional.
Under the law, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the expansion costs for the first three years and then a declining percentage until 2020, when the federal share will stay at 90 percent.
In Oklahoma, the federal share would be an estimated $8.6 billion through 2022, while the state share through that same period would be nearly $700 million.
The expansion of Medicaid to cover those with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line would mean 180,000 more Oklahomans would be eligible beginning next year.
Oklahoma Hospital Association members favor Medicaid expansion to offset the costs of uncompensated care and the hit they're going to take from a cut in Medicare hospital payments under the health care law.
Patti Davis, executive vice president of the hospital association, said Tuesday that the goal of the public relations campaign is “to encourage Oklahomans to accept the federal money that is ours in order to fund health care for the uninsured in Oklahoma.”
She said the extent of the campaign is still evolving.
Fallin has said she wants to find innovative ways to provide more health care coverage in the state, and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority is paying a consulting firm $500,000 for ideas. Arkansas hopes to win approval from the Obama administration for a plan to use Medicaid expansion money to allow eligible residents to buy private insurance.