In her 2013 State of the State address, Governor Mary Fallin reiterated her opposition to accepting federal dollars to provide coverage to uninsured Oklahomans through Medicaid, as provided under the Affordable Care Act. In states that extend Medicaid, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for the newly-eligible population for three years (2014-16) and 90 percent from 2020 onwards. Yet the Governor claims that extending Medicaid would impose large and unaffordable costs on the state:
According to a report from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, the proposed expansion of Medicaid would result in a $689 million increase in state Medicaid costs between 2013 and 2022. Expanding Medicaid as proposed by the president would mean that a huge sum of money would be diverted from other priorities, like education and public safety, as well as existing health care programs.
The Governor’s assertion that extending Medicaid is unaffordable to Oklahoma is unconvincing in at least two respects. First, the study on which she bases her cost estimates makes clear that extending Medicaid would have a very modest fiscal cost to the state and would bring in over twelve new federal dollars for every additional dollar of state spending. Secondly, the state cost of extending Medicaid would be less than half the cost of the Governor’s proposed 0.25 percentage point cut to the top income tax rate over the same period.
In November, the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured released the report which estimated that Oklahoma would spend $689 million more from 2013-2022 by extending Medicaid under the ACA (1). This estimate is significantly higher than the one developed by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA), which had previously formed the basis of discussions of the cost of Medicaid expansion. In part, this is because the Kaiser Commission’s projections run through 2022, adding two years when the state share would be 10 percent. In addition, unlike OHCA, the Kaiser Commission assumes that extending Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level for working age adults will lead some people who currently have employer-sponsored coverage or individual coverage to drop that coverage and enroll in Medicaid instead. The Kaiser Commission projects 204,000 more Oklahomans will enroll in Medicaid, of whom 126,000 are currently uninsured.
A careful look at the full Kaiser Commission report shows, however, that the actual cost to Oklahoma of extending Medicaid are modest and would yield tremendous benefits:
- From 2013-2022, the federal government would spend an additional $8.561 billion on the newly-eligible Medicaid population, or more than $12 for every dollar in state spending. The federal government would assume 92.5 percent of the total cost from 2013-2022.
- The $689 million state cost of Medicaid expansion would be offset by $205 million in savings in reduced uncompensated care costs, reducing the net cost to $485 million (Table ES-4). This does not take into account savings from shifting services currently paid for with state-only dollars to Medicaid; Oklahoma currently spends an estimated $48 million annually on health services for low-income adults who could become Medicaid-eligible. Nor does it include revenue gains from the boost to state economic activity resulting from increased federal dollars.
- The state costs would be especially modest in the early years. The state cost is projected to be just $11 million in 2016, which is less than the $23 million the state would save that year in uncompensated care costs (Table 15).
- Extending Medicaid eligibility would increase state spending on Medicaid by just 2.7 percent from 2014 – 2022 (Table 6).
- Medicaid payments to Oklahoma hospitals alone would increase by $3.6 billion from 2013-2022, an 18.5 percent increase (Table 13).
- Medicaid expansion would reduce the number of uninsured Oklahomans by 126,000 (Table 12). Currently nearly one in two working age Oklahomans with income below 133 percent of the federal poverty level are without insurance.
Accepting the Kaiser Commission’s cost estimates, Oklahoma can expect to spend an additional $485 million between now and 2022, net of reduced uncompensated care costs. The Governor contends that this spending would detract significantly from Oklahoma’s ability to make necessary investments in education, public safety, and other health care programs. Yet the Governor proposes cutting Oklahoma’s top income tax rate from 5.25 to 5.0 percent. This tax cut would cost about $125 million in 2014 and $1.48 billion from 2013-2022 (see Table), which is double or triple the state cost of extending Medicaid over the same period. More than two in five Oklahoma households would get no benefit at all from the tax cut, and the median benefit would be just $39 per household in 2014, as we discussed in this blog post. By contrast, extending Medicaid would provide health coverage for 125,000 uninsured Oklahomans. The economic benefits of an infusion of $8.56 billion in federal funds for health care over nine years would dwarf those of a $1.48 billion tax cut.
If we want to make the best decision for our state’s health and prosperity, turning down federal dollars to extend Medicaid to low-income Oklahomans is the truly unaffordable choice.
(1) This number does not include the “woodwork” population of those currently eligible but not enrolled in Medicaid. This population is expected to enroll in Medicaid whether or note the state extends Medicaid eligibility.