The word “difficult” was used throughout Thursday’s board meeting of the state’s Medicaid agency, as leaders discussed millions of dollars in cuts that had to be made to balance the agency’s budget for the coming fiscal year.
During a standing-room only meeting, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority board voted Thursday on several changes, including changes in mental health services and increases in co-payments, that will affect some of Oklahoma’s poorest residents.
Leaders at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers Medicaid, said the agency faced a $104 million shortfall, in part, because of decreases in federal funding it receives and also because of less money in tobacco tax dollars.
Board chairman Ed McFall, a pharmacist from rural Oklahoma, said he encouraged several meeting attendees to contact their lawmakers and tell them what impact the budget cuts will have on them personally.
“If you don’t let them know these cuts are affecting your communities, next year’s budget decisions will likely be more of the same or even worse, and the solution of this problem is not right here at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority,” McFall said. “The solution of this problem lies at 23rd and Lincoln.”
Along with the budget cuts approved Thursday, the board is expected to meet Tuesday to discuss whether the agency will cut the rate it pays physicians and other medical providers for the services they deliver to Medicaid recipients. The measure was anticipated to be on the agenda Thursday but had to be removed to comply with Oklahoma’s Open Meetings Act.
One of the votes that the board members made was to increase how much Medicaid recipients pay in co-pays. Most co-pays will increase from $3 to $4, according to the health care authority.
David Blatt, the executive director of Oklahoma Policy Institute, said he was frustrated to be talking about budget cuts with leaders of an agency that could have received millions of dollars had Oklahoma expanded its Medicaid program, an option associated with the much-debated Affordable Care Act.