The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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April 3, 2013

Oklahoma consultant studying Arkansas plan

NORMAN, Okla. — A consultant hired by Oklahoma to look at new ways to provide health-care coverage to low-income people ineligible for Medicaid is studying an Arkansas plan that would channel federal Medicaid money through private insurers.

Leavitt Partners, a Utah consulting firm, is examining whether the plan proposed in Arkansas, and similar ones in other states, could be applied in some way in Oklahoma, State Commissioner of Health Terry Cline said. An Oklahoma Hospital Association official also confirmed Leavitt’s inquiry.

Whether Oklahoma will actually pursue such a path remains to be seen.

If not, it’s unclear how or whether Oklahoma will find a way to provide health coverage for about 200,000 people who could remain uninsured next year because of Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision not to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The state contracted with Leavitt Partners for $500,000 earlier this year to come up with recommendations for an Oklahoma-based plan to address health-care issues.

Leavitt Partners is headed by Mike Leavitt, former Utah governor and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. The firm was hired after Fallin decided to reject Medicaid expansion, which would have covered all Oklahomans whose income is at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

Cline said the firm is considering several options, including a proposal by Arkansas. That plan could allow low-income people to use Medicaid expansion funds to purchase private insurance through a health-care exchange, where people can shop for coverage online.

Since the Arkansas proposal became public in February, several states that rejected Medicaid expansion have signaled an interest in similar plans. Those states include Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Louisiana, according to media reports.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare,” provides eligibility to Medicaid for all individuals and families with income up through 133 percent of the poverty level. That equates to $15,282 for a single person and $31,322 for a family of four. In refusing to expand Medicaid, Oklahoma will leave more than 130,000 in a “crater,” meaning they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy insurance on a health exchange.

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