OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A consulting firm hired by Oklahoma to help answer the question of how to insure 200,000 people without health coverage told the state's Medicaid board Thursday that an existing program could be used to build a broader system by 2015.
Utah-based Leavitt Partners gave the Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board its preliminary report at Thursday's regular monthly board meeting. The full report isn't expected until June, but the firm's initial suggestions include streamlining Medicaid requirements and expanding the Insure Oklahoma program, which currently uses Medicaid and Oklahoma tax money to help about 30,000 people buy private insurance.
"The other piece is — based on the success of Insure Oklahoma, the nature of the program and how well-accepted it is in the community — that you use Insure Oklahoma as a framework to cover the rest of the uninsured," Leavitt senior analyst Michael Deily told the board at its meeting. "Now, there would likely need to be some revisions."
Those changes could include using home-based care models, incentives for preventive care and a removal of Insure Oklahoma's 35,000 enrollment cap, Deily said. The changes would be overseen by a steering committee of experts and politicians and could be in place by January 2014.
"This is a real opportunity to improve preventive care," Deily said.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin rejected $3.6 billion over seven years in new federal money to expand the state's Medicaid system last November, pushing the Health Care Authority to look into other ways to provide coverage to those people who cannot afford it. The authority hired Leavitt Partners for $500,000 to provide suggestions.
Thursday's recommendations were largely unsurprising. A small group of Oklahoma legislators have been eyeing the Insure Oklahoma program for weeks as an ideal starting point for a larger insurance plan. The suggestions also follow a similar proposal the Arkansas Legislature approved last month with the tentative blessing of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
CMS had rejected the renewal of a waiver that sustains Insure Oklahoma earlier this year, apparently dooming it to end by January 2014. But in a letter to the Health Care Authority this week, CMS Director Cindy Mann said the rejection could change if some adjustments to Insure Oklahoma were made, such as throwing out the enrollment limit.
Because the consulting firm's broad suggestions include some of those changes, they could therefore unlock those billions of Medicaid dollars for Oklahoma to use in a politically acceptable way, help hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans get insurance and save Insure Oklahoma all at the same time — if CMS gives the go-ahead.
"If we made alterations, I think they would, and I think they expressed that in the letter," Health Care Authority Deputy CEO Cindy Roberts told reporters after Thursday's meeting. A CMS spokeswoman declined to comment on the plan because it wasn't yet specific enough.
Fallin and other Republicans, meanwhile, have blamed the federal government for squashing an Oklahoma program that works and haven't yet given their support to any proposal to change it. The bill's sponsors told The Associated Press on Wednesday they have little hope the plan will advance this year.
"It's up to the state now" to make the necessary changes, Roberts said. "Are we willing to?"