How much longer will Oklahoma pass up the benefits of health care expansion? (Capitol Update)

Word is beginning to circulate around the Capitol about a possible expansion of Medicaid services in Oklahoma. I don’t know what form this would take, but hopefully it will be broad enough to take full advantage of the 90 percent funding available to the state through the Affordable Care Act (ACA.) A recent compilation of studies by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation found many positive effects for the states that have accepted Medicaid expansion. Oklahoma is among only 14 states who still refuse to accept the expansion.

The Kaiser findings suggest Medicaid expansion shows gains for expansion states in the area of insurance coverage, access to care, utilization and affordability of health care services and health outcomes. They also show that the economic benefits of expansion include job creation and reductions of uncompensated care costs for hospitals and clinics.

Studies reported by WalletHub found that Oklahoma is 49th in health insurance coverage, 41stin cost of healthcare, 33rd in access to health care and 46th in health outcomes. This helps explain Oklahoma’s 47th place among the states in the health of its citizens as reported in America’s Health Rankings by the United Health Foundation. After last fall’s election and at the beginning of the session it seemed that Medicaid expansion would be a long shot this session. So, it’s great to hear that some in the legislature who are committed to making it happen are gaining some traction on the issue.

Given our miserable health and health care rankings, it’s unfathomable that health care would not be near the top of every state leader’s to-do list. But if health care is not your thing, how about economic development? According to Kaiser, “state-specific studies have documented or predicted significant job growth resulting from expansion. A study in Colorado found that the state supports 31,074 additional jobs due to Medicaid expansion as of FY 2015-2016, and a study in Kentucky estimated that expansion would create over 40,000 jobs in the state through SFY 2021 with an average salary of $41,000.”

About the only reason given for failure to accept our federal health care money is that the government might some day pull the rug out from under us by eliminating the ACA. That’s been tried every year for the past decade, and it grows less likely every year. If indeed the ACA were ever repealed, it would be for something better. That, by definition, would not be leaving the states holding the bag for billions in health care costs. In the meantime, Oklahoma remains a bottom feeder in healthcare. Now would be a good time to let our legislators know how we feel about Medicaid expansion.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

One thought on “How much longer will Oklahoma pass up the benefits of health care expansion? (Capitol Update)

  1. Senate Bill 605 would establish Insure Oklahoma as the vehicle for capturing Medicaid Expansion funds. It passed unanimously out of committee, even garnering the vote of President Pro Tem Greg Treat. There is a more limited, but more complicated, effort underway in the house (HB 1750) that would allow one or more contiguous counties to come up with the 10% matching funds to bring federal ACA dollars home.

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