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February 5, 2013

Dems. say take politics out of Okla. Medicaid plan

OKLAHOMA CITY — Democratic leaders in the Oklahoma Legislature said Monday that Gov. Mary Fallin's decision not to expand the state's Medicaid program was politically motivated and that more public awareness is needed among the roughly 200,000 low-income Oklahomans who would benefit from the expansion.

Fallin announced in November that Oklahoma would reject the Medicaid expansion allowed under the health care overhaul law, citing the cost to both the state and federal governments.

During her State of the State remarks Monday, Fallin said the proposal to expand Medicaid for residents who do not have insurance was "unaffordable." But Democratic leaders said Fallin's decision was based on political opposition to the health care law and its mandate that all Americans purchase private health care insurance or pay a penalty.

"It was simply a political decision," said the state House's Democratic leader, Rep. Scott Inman of Oklahoma City. Inman said expanding the program would attract about $3.6 billion in federal funds for the state's Medicaid program and help stabilize rural hospitals, creating jobs and expanding health care coverage to some of Oklahoma's neediest citizens.

The chairman of the House Democratic caucus, Rep. Jerry McPeak of Warner, said politics should not be part of decisions that impact the health care of Oklahomans.

"She's sure got her heels set that she's not going to do it," McPeak said.

The expansion would have allowed Oklahomans earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $30,000 for a family of four, to be eligible for Medicaid coverage. Under current law, only children in families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level are Medicaid eligible.

During her State of the State speech Monday, Fallin said a report from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured found that expanding Medicaid would cost the state $689 million between 2013 and 2022.

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