Oklahoma needs Medicaid expansion yesterday 

COVID-19 Policy Analysis: As our nation confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, OK Policy will be analyzing state and federal policies that impact our state and its residents during this national health emergency. These posts reflect the most current information available at publication, and we will update or publish follow-ups as new information becomes available.

NOTE: OK Policy is not a state agency and we cannot assist in applying for state services or provide legal advice.

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NOTE: Governor Stitt’s alternative expansion proposal calls for full Medicaid expansion starting July 1, 2020 – and then scaling back that expansion in 2021 through harmful barriers to care including work requirements, premiums, and a risky, untested financing structure. The piece below is about the need for full Medicaid expansion now, but if you’d like to tell Gov. Stitt that Oklahomans don’t want additional barriers to health care, you can do so here.

Oklahoma officials have told federal regulators that the state intends to expand Medicaid in our state starting July 1 as part of Gov. Stitt’s health care proposal. Oklahoma’s Medicaid expansion is long overdue, but focusing attention on a July 1 start date overlooks an important fact: there is nothing preventing Oklahoma from expanding Medicaid now, and Gov. Stitt should act to do so as soon as possible. 

Oklahoma’s health care system currently is dealing with hundreds of reported COVID-19 cases, and health officials are bracing for an expected surge in the coming weeks. A skyrocketing unemployment rate and Oklahoma’s ranking among the bottom 10 states for health insurance coverage suggest a recipe for public health disaster. Hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans have no option for seeking health care outside an emergency room, and they are likely to be bankrupted when they do. 

As part of the implementation of the governor’s health care proposal, the state has filed what’s known as a State Plan Amendment. This sets a target date of July 1, 2020 for eligible Oklahomans to file for coverage. However, Oklahoma could easily refile its plan so full expansion would take effect sooner, bringing health insurance to hundreds of thousands of low-income working-age adults such as grocery store clerks, child care workers, and pharmacy technicians. The only question mark is how long it would take federal regulators to approve the amendment – but they’re already acting quickly on pandemic-related requests from states.

What’s more, Oklahoma could go even further to protect patients and providers by making Medicaid expansion retroactive to the first day of the current quarter, which would be January 1 or April 1, depending on when a modified State Plan Amendment is filed. This measure allows expansion-eligible enrollees to get covered even if they sought treatment before they were enrolled. This step could ensure providers are paid for their work, and it would ensure more Oklahomans who need health care during the pandemic aren’t bankrupted by it. 

In an open letter to the community this past weekend, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said Oklahoma has not yet seen the worst of the pandemic

We know the virus is here, and it is spreading. It will continue to spread because no one is immune to it.

At some point in the weeks ahead, just based on the math of contagion, it will begin to snowball, and then the bad part will be here.

Thousands of Oklahomans will become very, very sick during the coming weeks. Thousands more will lose their jobs and any employer-provided health insurance that went with them. As the pandemic wreaks its full havoc on the health, pocketbooks, and security of everyday Oklahomans, health care coverage will play an increasingly vital role for our communities. Our state leaders already have shown a willingness to begin the Medicaid expansion process in Oklahoma. There is nothing preventing them from accelerating the application process sooner rather than later. For many of our friends and neighbors, it might be a matter of life or death. 

Oklahoma needs Medicaid expansion now. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in January 2014. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern. A Kansas City native, Carly graduated from the University of Tulsa in December 2013 with a BA in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. She is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification Program, the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking program, and The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa. She previously served as board president for United Campus Ministry at the University of Tulsa. At OK Policy, Carly supervises policy staff and conducts research focusing on health care and the safety net.

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