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Oklahoma can't afford not to reform Medicaid

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: October 30, 2013

STATE Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, has a simple but ambitious goal for Oklahoma's Medicaid program. “My passion is getting people off these programs,” he says. Standridge doesn't want to achieve that goal by arbitrarily “kicking them off,” but by helping people achieve self-sufficiency.

Although touted as a safety net, Oklahoma's current Medicaid program actually grows regardless of economic conditions, suggesting that enrollees find it hard to transition from state assistance to private insurance. Since 1995, Oklahoma's Medicaid enrollment has increased every year. When times are tough, more people enroll; when the economy is booming ... more people enroll!

In the 2000 state budget year, 12.13 percent of Oklahoma's population was on Medicaid. By the 2012 budget year, that figure reached 26.57 percent, a 141 percent gain in enrollment at a time the state's population grew just 10.3 percent. This trend is clearly unsustainable, and undesirable. Its impact on state finances is significant. Total Medicaid spending in Oklahoma, including state and federal dollars, increased 190.9 percent during that time period even as inflation increased just 35 percent. Looking only at state Medicaid appropriations, the picture gets worse: From the 2001 budget year to 2012, state spending on Medicaid increased 217 percent.

State Medicaid spending is often touted as a way to get “free” federal matching funds, but over the past decade the federal Medicaid reimbursement rate to Oklahoma has been cut 7 percent, which forced diversion of other state funds away from things like schools and roads to preserve Medicaid. Another cut totaling $66 million is scheduled. And President Barack Obama has called for cutting Medicaid payments further.

Even if costs weren't an issue, the program isn't particularly effective at improving health outcomes. Under the traditional fee-for-service model, medical care for Medicaid patients often is segmented, leaving providers with an incomplete picture of patients' medical histories. That ultimately creates more medical problems. A 2005 survey published in Health Affairs found that up to 34 percent of patients experienced a significant, avoidable medical error due to uncoordinated care. A 2009 multistate study by Southeastern Consultants found uncoordinated care resulted in medical costs that were five times the cost of coordinated care for the same diagnosis.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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