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Capitol Insider: Stitt Announces New Health Care Plan As Legislative Session Begins

KGOU - Dick Pryor
Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) Oklahoma

As Oklahoma lawmakers get ready to return to the Capitol for the start of the 2020 Legislative Session, Governor Kevin Stitt announces a new plan that would change health care delivery in the state. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with the eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. The 2020 legislative session begins Monday at noon. Governor Stitt will deliver his State of the State speech at about 12:45 and release his Executive Budget. There does not seem to be a defined theme for this upcoming session, but one thing that does stand out is the budget will be tight and having little new money does affect the dynamics of a legislative session.

Shawn Ashley: That's certainly true as we listened to legislative leaders on Thursday. They talked about the fact how in 2019 a lot of the budget decisions were much easier to make because of the revenue-raising decisions they had made in 2018. They simply had more money to spend. Now, as we look at the work they will be doing for the 2021 fiscal year budget, we see that they have about 9 million dollars in growth revenue. And that's not really much when agencies such as Higher Ed are asking for more than a hundred million more and the Department of Education is asking for in excess of 200 million dollars more. So that makes those decisions tough to make to get that money. Something has to come from somewhere to go somewhere else, and those can really rankle members as they work through those problems.

Dick Pryor: One major issue lawmakers and the governor will be talking about a lot is health care. There is a state question that will be on the ballot this year that would expand Medicaid. But the governor has announced he has a different plan.

Shawn Ashley: That's right. Governor Kevin Stitt went to Washington, D.C. on Thursday and joined a variety of federal officials first to announce a change in the federal regulations related to Medicaid. This opens up a new set of block grants to states, giving them more flexibility in order to run their Medicaid programs. And specifically, this applies to those able- bodied low income under the age of 65, not those already qualified for Medicaid. The state plan, which in May he said he would offer as an alternative to the proposed state question, would take advantage of that waiver to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma. Now, this isn't going to happen tomorrow. First of all, there's the threat of lawsuits and the state will have to go through that waiver application process, prepare a waiver, get it approved by the federal government. Then the state's going to have to make decisions about funding. Governor Stitt said on Thursday that it would cost about 150 million dollars, but that would bring about one point one billion dollars back into the state of Oklahoma. And they have been working with the Trump administration for some time now. The governor's spokeswoman, Bailey Lakey, told me that we have been in collaborative communication with the Trump administration for several months to develop this plan.

Dick Pryor: How would the Trump-Stitt plan differ from Medicaid expansion?

Shawn Ashley: Well, it IS Medicaid expansion. It deals with those low-income individuals under the age of 65 who are able- bodied, who are unable to obtain health insurance or health care any other way. They would then be eligible to participate in the state's Medicaid program, now specifically the Medicaid program under the waiver, which the governor is going to seek. State Question 802 would give that same population access to the existing Medicaid program. And Governor Stitt has indicated that his proposal would have some differences from what is currently available through Medicaid.

Dick Pryor: When we talked to him on Thursday, the governor teased his State of the State speech by saying he would announce something about consolidation of health care delivery agencies. Speaker Charles McCall, for one, says that agency restructuring is working well. So what should we expect?

Shawn Ashley: Well, it's really hard to say at this point. House Speaker Charles McCall, as well as Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat indicated there is no agreement on specific agencies yet to be restructured to give the governor the authority to appoint their executive director and to remake their governing boards. In the case of Governor Stitt’s comments, we see that Medicaid funding is spread out over a number of different agencies. Its primary agency is the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, but some of it also goes to the Department of Human Services, as well as Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. So, what the governor could be looking at is bringing some of those agencies together or programs within those agencies together under one roof. We'll see when he makes his State of the State speech.

Dick Pryor: Again this year, we'll be airing coverage of the governor's State of the State speech on KGOU and then the session will be off and running. Thanks, Shawn. And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at news@KGOU.org or contact us on Twitter, @KGOUnews. You can also find us online at KGOU.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 30 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November 2016.
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