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OK Elects Not to Expand Medicaid Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act

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Oklahoma's bordering neighbors - Arkansas and Missouri - are planning to expand their Medicaid programs under new guidelines in the Affordable Care Act, making sure thousands more of their residents have health insurance.

It makes Gov. Mary Fallin's decision not to expand Medicaid coverage in Oklahoma seem even more outrageous, and it means Oklahoma taxpayers will be funding health care and, by extension, a better quality of life, in neighboring states as we remain one of the unhealthiest places in the nation.

Under the Affordable Care Act, states can expand Medicaid coverage to people below 133 percent of the poverty line. The federal government will pay for the entire expansion for three years, and then eventually will pay 90 percent of the cost. States were given the option to participate in the program or not in a recent ruling on the Affordable Care Act by the U.S. Supreme Court, and Fallin and other Republican leaders, chose not to do so, citing costs.

It is estimated that Fallin's decision could leave approximately 180,000 Oklahomans without health insurance coverage. Overall, different estimates show some 600,000 to 700,000 Oklahomans don't have health insurance, which leads to higher premiums and medical costs for everyone.

In rejecting the expansion, Fallin, a Republican, said it could end up "costing the state of Oklahoma up to $475 million between now and 2020," but that number was called "greatly exaggerated and misleading" by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a state think tank widely respected for its budgetary and financial calculations. It's widely assumed among progressives that Fallin's decision was based on partisan politics and the irrational and exaggerated GOP rhetoric here surrounding so-called Obamacare.

Compare Fallin's approach to that of the governors of Arkansas and Missouri.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said this about the expansion:  "I'm for it. I think it's good for our people because it's helping folks that don't have insurance now that are working their tails off. They're not sitting on a couch somewhere asking for something."

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said this about it: "We're not going to let politics get in the way of doing the best thing for our state."

Both Beebe and Nixon are Democrats, but their states are considered conservative. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won a majority of votes in Missouri and Arkansas in the recent election.

According to Wonkblog, 17 states have now decided to expand Medicaid, 9, including Oklahoma, have chosen not to do so, and the rest haven't decided yet.

Let's hope Fallin reverses course and truly considers overall health concerns in Oklahoma, which is consistently ranked as one of the unhealthiest states to live in the country. The high number of uninsured here is a major part of the problem. If Arkansas and Missouri can do the right thing, then surely so can Oklahoma.

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