Kansas is considering expanding health coverage. Oklahoma should, too.

Photo by  Theophilos Papadopoulos used under a Creative Commons license.
Photo by Theophilos Papadopoulos used under a Creative Commons license.

It’s no secret that Kansas’s budget is in crisis. Following years of tax cuts and fiscal mismanagement, the state finds itself in a $600 million budget shortfall. The state is scrambling to fill the gap, including across-the-board budget reductions and further cuts to public schools that the Kansas Supreme Court has already ruled are constitutionally underfunded.

If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right. Oklahoma is in a similar situation – a $611 million budget hole, agencies facing devastating budget cuts, and a public education system badly in need of an infusion of funds.

However, unlike Oklahoma, Governor Brownback and the Kansas legislature are showing signs of being willing to consider the full range of options available to them. This includes boosting the state budget by working with the federal government to expand health coverage to the state’s low-income uninsured.

The Affordable Care Act gives states the option to use federal funds to expand health coverage to low-income residents. The federal government covers 100 percent of the costs of expansion until 2016, before phasing down to 90 percent in 2020 and all years after that. Thus far, 37 states and Washington DC have chosen to move forward with expansion. Some have done so by expanding eligibility for their Medicaid programs, while others have negotiated with the federal government to build more customized programs for their states.

If Kansas does indeed go ahead with expansion, it will likely be via the latter route. Governor Brownback has said that he won’t accept an expansion that requires any state funds. This is a tall order – but it’s possible. Under Tennessee’s proposed expansion, the state hospital association agreed to pay the state’s share of the cost when the federal government’s contribution scaled down.

Furthermore, the benefits of expansion make it worthwhile for the state to explore its options. The Kansas Hospital Association, with researchers from Georgetown University, found that expanding health coverage in Kansas would create thousands of jobs. Similarly, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment recently found that expansion would create a net savings to the state of $82 million between 2014 and 2020. Simply put, expanding health coverage would be a good deal for Kansas, and the federal government has show that it is willing to work with states to craft plans to fit their needs. Kansas lawmakers seem to be moving in that direction.

Oklahoma should consider doing the same. Oklahoma has a variety of options available to craft an Oklahoma plan for Oklahoma, including expanding Insure Oklahoma to include many more low-income uninsured Oklahomans. Expanding access to health coverage for low-income Oklahomans would improve health outcomes and lower the uninsured rate, add thousands of well-paying jobs to the state economy, and save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. According to a study commissioned by Governor Fallin, accepting federal funds would create net state savings of some $450 million over a decade.

We’ve advised against following Kansas’s budget path before, but this is one time where it would make sense. In a time of tight budgets and hard decisions, this is one decision that should be a no-brainer.

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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