This week marks the 54th anniversary of Medicaid’s signature into law, and as Oklahomans we must face an uncomfortable truth: Our state’s inaction on Medicaid expansion has resulted in closed hospitals and a loss of life.
Medicaid uses both state and federal funds to provide low-income individuals and families access to health care. Two-thirds of those covered by Oklahoma Medicaid — known as SoonerCare — are children. Currently, the only adults who qualify are seniors, disabled, pregnant women or caretakers who make less than $400 a month. By accepting the expansion, we would create access for low wage earners who can’t afford insurance but make more than $400 a month.
When states expand Medicaid, the federal government provides $9 for each $1 of state investment. That funding comes from Oklahoma’s taxpayers. Without expansion, that funding simply goes to the 36 states that have expanded, including states similar to ours, such as Kentucky, Arkansas and Louisiana. Throughout the decade Oklahoma has refused expansion, it has lost up to $1 billion annually in health care funding.
That $9-to-$1 match is required by federal law, and reducing it would take Congressional action. Most states have expanded Medicaid, so voting to drop the match rate would be — for most members — a vote to harm their own state.
Medicaid expansion would offer coverage to 200,000 Oklahomans who don’t have it now.
Oklahoma has the second-highest uninsured rate in the country. This rate prevents people from seeking and getting the care they need and plunges them into devastating medical debt.
Turning down these critical funds has hurt our state’s economy. It creates a heavy burden on our medical providers, who must find some way to cover uncompensated care. Oklahoma hospitals face more than $500 million a year in uncompensated care expenses. That means that people are going to the ER with no way to pay for their services. That cost is passed on not only to other patients but to taxpayers. Six hospitals have closed across our state causing Oklahomans to lose access to critical care and significant job loss in those same communities.
On a human level, that toll is even worse. A study released last week found that Medicaid expansion could have prevented more than 15,000 unnecessary deaths across the states that refused expansion.
Oklahoma has missed out on critical medical coverage for a decade because of a political decision. It is time to change course.