The Oklahoma Supreme Court has set aside plans to privatize Medicaid management, giving the state another chance to get it right.
In a 6-3 decision last week, the court found the Oklahoma Health Care Authority needed legislative approval to implement SoonerSelect, a program favored by Gov. Kevin Stitt that moves management of the public health program into the private sector.
It marks the second ruling from the state’s top court reversing Stitt’s plans that were outside his legal authority. The other rejected compacts Stitt made with two Oklahoma tribal nations regarding sports gaming that didn’t have legislative approval.
We were never sold on the plan to manage Medicaid privately. Oklahoma tried that before, and it failed.
It is based on the false assumption that putting an intermediary between costs and providers provides efficiency. The only way to save money is to cut the fees or treat fewer people. Both are bad outcomes when it comes to Medicaid.
It was opposed by most medical providers, many legislators and advocates working in low-income communities. The lawsuit to stop the plan was filed in February by the state’s largest professional medical associations.
Oklahoma’s prior experience with managed Medicaid led to provider shortages, especially in rural areas. Poor patients were left untreated or forced to drive long distances.
The biggest winners appeared to be the private managers, at the expense of people who are poor, disabled and elderly or low-income children.
After the court ruling, Stitt released a statement saying he would “continue to work with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to determine the next steps in the process.”
Stitt also needs to work with the Legislature.
Getting approval from the lawmaking branch of government is the legal process and provides a stronger, more thoroughly vetted plan with a broader political mandate. Oklahomans will have more trust in decisions that go through the legislative process.
Oklahomans want Medicaid expansion. An initiative petition led to the approval of State Question 802 last year to put more low-income residents into the program.
It’s time to move on from the push to privatize Medicaid and focus on bolstering OHCA to do what it is supposed to do: provide health coverage to Oklahomans in need.