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Some Business Leaders Come Out In Support Of Medicaid Expansion, But Governor Still Opposed

Office of the Governor
Gov. Kevin Stitt in an undated file photo.

Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday said he still does not support State Question 802, the ballot question to be voted on by Oklahomans on Tuesday regarding whether the state's Medicaid program should be expanded.

"It's going to be either raising taxes, which I'm not going to be for, or it's going to be cutting services from other state agencies" like education and public safety, Stitt said on how the state would fund the expansion if passed by voters.

Stitt took questions following a press conference with State Auditor Cindy Byrd and Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Kevin Corbett to discuss the results of a Stitt administration audit of the state's Medicaid program. The question-and-answer portion of the event was publicly livestreamed, but video of the prepared remarks was not livestreamed or otherwise made available by the governor's office. 

Byrd said that close to $30 million was estimated to have been paid out through the system's Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to families whose children did not qualify. 

Stitt said that $30 million may not be much relatively -- it represents less than 1% of Medicaid spending -- but any funds misallocated are a problem.

"If it's more than a ham sandwich, we're going to fix it, and we're going to make sure we spend that money correctly," Stitt said. 

Supporters of Medicaid expansion say increasing access to coverage is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“In the midst of a global pandemic, I can’t think of a time when access to health care and support of rural hospitals has ever been more critical,” said Barry Steichen, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Saint Francis Health System, according to a press release from the Tulsa Regional Chamber, which, along with the chambers of Oklahoma City and the state, supports Medicaid expansion. “Beyond the health and human implications of SQ 802, the economic benefit to the state is significant and will bring more than a billion Oklahoma dollars back to Oklahoma each year.”

The Oklahoma Policy Institute, which supports the expansion measure, said in a statement that the results of the audit don't "immediately appear to align" with previous state and federal audits of the Medicaid program, and that the timing of the announcement is suspicious.

"Releasing these findings just five days before the SQ 802 election smacks of a political ploy to distract voters as they head to the polls on Tuesday," they said in a statement.

In an email sent Thursday by the governor's reelection campaign, Stitt said both that expansion may not be effective and may cede control of Oklahoma health care to national Democratic politicians.

"There’s absolutely zero guarantee SQ 802 would save our state’s struggling rural hospitals," the email reads.

"SQ 802’s Medicaid expansion gives the federal government and liberals in Congress like Nancy Pelosi more control of Oklahoma’s health care."

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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