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Oklahoma lawmakers should study Florida Medicaid reforms

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: September 26, 2012

THOSE who bemoan public school funding cuts need look no further than Medicaid to identify a major cause. In 2011, Oklahoma government expenditures on health services exceeded spending on education. Although the budget for K-12 schools was cut in recent years, the budget for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers Medicaid, increased.

The trajectory of Oklahoma's Medicaid program is unsustainable. It's grown from $333 million in state appropriations in fiscal year 2000 to $922 million this year. Policymakers are currently considering an expansion of Medicaid; it would be better to make the existing program more effective.

Fortunately, Medicaid reforms pioneered in Florida may provide a way to not only reduce costs, but also improve benefits for the poor. Officials with the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think tank, were in Oklahoma recently to tout this patient-centered approach to saving taxpayer money.

In traditional Medicaid, the government determines services covered and payment rates. The Florida reforms provide patients a choice of private plans (which bid to participate) that offer different benefits, although all are required to provide medically necessary services. Patients in traditional Medicaid are limited to a single plan; those covered by the Florida reform project enjoy as many as 11.

Under the Florida reforms, providers are paid more for treating patients with the greatest medical challenges. That incentivizes providers to treat the sickest of the sick while improving coordination of care to reduce waste.

Those incentives are working. One plan offered to Florida Medicaid recipients focuses on patients with HIV; another is designed for children with severe physical and developmental health needs (think autism or acute medical conditions). Florida's reform pilot plans have featured up to 12 additional services not available to those in traditional Medicaid. The program also provides participants financial incentives for healthy behavior, such as immunizations and annual physicals.

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