Rep. Marcus McEntire

Rep. Marcus McEntire

Last June, Oklahoma voters passed a state question that expanded Medicaid in the state to more low-income adults beginning this July 1. Anticipating this, the state Legislature last session passed a measure known as SoonerCare 2.0 that would have required the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) to oversee the expansion. State budget leaders estimated this would cost about $164 million this year.

The governor, however, vetoed that bill and instead directed the Health Care Authority Board to adopt a privatized managed care plan, contracting with four major private health insurers. If nothing is done legislatively, that plan will take effect this fall and cost the state about $2 billion for the contracts being awarded without legislative input or oversight of the expense.

I realize the Health Care Authority cannot do all we are asking them to do. They may need to contract with some private entities to provide some services and technology. But paying hundreds of millions to private, out-of-state companies when this state agency has done an excellent job in managing this service for our hospitals and health care providers is something I could not sit quietly by and watch happen. I had to do something because my House colleagues want it and my conscience demands it.

I introduced Senate Bill 131 to the House Public Health Committee this week. The bill would require the OHCA to implement internal managed care for our state Medicaid program instead of outsourcing to these private corporations. After about an hour’s worth of questioning, the bill passed the committee by a vote of 9-1. Now the bill will move to the House floor for a vote and back through the Senate. If it makes it to the Governor’s desk, it is likely to be vetoed. If he vetoes it, the bill will need two-thirds of the House and Senate members to override. I accept this is a high hurdle and the odds are stacked against us.

Each member in the Legislature who has a local hospital in their district has been lobbied hard to keep the state plan in place and to keep our taxpayer money from going to outside corporations that may not have our best care at heart. In addition to the higher cost, the fear is that reimbursements for care will be slower. Local hospitals and providers will be shut out of the decision-making process or be squeezed out of the market altogether by lower payments. For members, there will be an insurance company standing between them and their physicians.

The governor would like to see Oklahoma’s overall health ranking improve, and we wholeheartedly agree with him. But getting people to make better lifestyle choices to improve their overall health is quite different from managing care. We’ll have to wait and see how this all materializes.

On a separate note, I’ve heard a lot of talk about Joe Biden’s executive orders on gun control. I want to reassure you that the state Legislature is adamant about protecting Oklahomans’ rights to keep and bear arms. We will continue to be vigilant in this area.

In the meantime, if I can be of any assistance, please feel free to contact me at marcus.mcentire@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7327.

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