More Than 684,000 Covered By Medicaid, State Lawmakers Told; 532,000 Remain Uninsured

by Scott Carter

OKLAHOMA CITY – More than 684,000 Oklahomans are covered by the federal Medicaid program, a state official told members of a joint legislative committee last week.

Carter Kimble, Deputy Secretary of Health for Gov. Kevin Stitt, outlined who is covered by health care in Oklahoma. Kimble said 684,100 Oklahomans were covered by Medicaid, while 560,700 were covered by Medicare.

Federal poverty guidelines – used as a qualifier for Medicaid coverage – set a $25,750 income level for a family of four at the 100 percent poverty level.

Kimble announced the figures during a joint legislative working group, which met for the fourth time this summer. Lawmakers spent last Wednesday trying to determine which Oklahomans, exactly, were covered by Medicaid and what the cost of providing Medicaid coverage for more residents would be.

The meeting comes as state lawmakers wrestle with the idea of expanding in Medicaid in the Sooner State.

Kimble said company-provided health insurance covers 1,723,800 Oklahomans with another 223,100 receiving insurance from non-group plans. More than half of those were enrolled in a plan through the Federal Health Insurance marketplace – and 80,100 got their health coverage from other public insurance plans, such as the military or veterans affairs.

Almost 532,000 Oklahomans are uninsured, Kimble said.

That figure for the uninsured, he said, includes tribal members who receive coverage only through the federal Indian Health Service, he said.

“The reason that it (IHS coverage) isn’t counted as insurance is that it’s really not insurance,” Kimble said. “It is free clinics. The premise of insurance doesn’t exist in that IHS structure.”

State Representative Marcus McEntire, co-chair of the working group, said increasing Oklahoma’s access to care was one of the drivers of the state’s low health care ranking. “I think that’s something that we have to look at,” he said. “I think it’s something that the governor will be looking at.”

McEntire, a Republican from Duncan, said the effort between the legislature and governor’s office were beginning to move toward some type of legislation. Earlier this summer Republican lawmaker said they wanted to develop some type of plan before supporters of an initiative petition that expands Medicaid got the measure on the fall 2020 ballot.

“It’s sobering and pretty overwhelming,” he said. “We all live in our own little bubbles and we don’t think about the health care of the state and when you start seeing all these statistics, it paints a pretty bleak future for Oklahoma if we don’t change some things in regard to our health care policy and culture.”

Clay Farris, a representative of the Mostly Medicaid company, said about 80 percent of the United States use the Medicaid managed care system to deliver their program.  He said that system offers budget stability, transfers the risk to the private sector, improves the continuity of care and provides better opportunities for governance.

Documents provided by Farris showed that the federal government spent a total of $7.2 trillion on Medicaid from 1966 to 2014. For the period from 2014 through 2022, Farris said, the government is expected to spend $5.5 trillion, alone, about two-thirds of what it spent over the past three decades.

That spending, he said, crowds out all other priorities including, K-12 and higher education, transportation and corrections.

Lawmakers will continue their study of the health care system next week.

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