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HHS Secretary Visits Oklahoma To Mark Medicaid Expansion Effective Date

Matt Trotter / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra speaks at Friendship Church on Thursday, the day voter-approved Medicaid expansion took effect in Oklahoma. He thanked a group of advocates and health officials who have supported expansion for years.

A special guest visited Oklahomans celebrating Medicaid expansion taking effect Thursday.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra spoke briefly at Friendship Church in north Tulsa. Becerra praised advocates and health officials on hand for their work to get voters to approve expansion last year through a ballot measure.

"You create a sense of normality for folks who want to get past COVID, who know that they'll be able to get back to work and go to the hospital or see a doctor when necessary. It is important that we give everyone peace of mind," Becerra said.

Patients at nearby Morton Comprehensive Health Services are among those who stand to gain some peace of mind. CEO Susan Savage said around half are uninsured, and most of them are now eligible for Medicaid.

"I want to put a human face on it because just these last couple of weeks since we've been enrolling people, we've had people cry who have never had health insurance — in their entire lives — break down in tears," Savage said.

Some details about Oklahoma's expanded Medicaid program remain up in the air. Gov. Kevin Stitt favors a managed care model, where private companies receive set amounts to coordinate care for Medicaid enrollees, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled last month $2 billion in state contracts were invalid, leaving the state health care authority to oversee the expanded program.

Asked whether he had an opinion on managed care, Becerra neither dismissed nor supported it, saying the White House is here to be a partner with Oklahoma.

"President Biden made it very clear when he became president. He wants to expand the number of people that have access to quality health care at a lower cost. And so, make it quality, make it cost less, we're on board," Becerra said.

The federal government pays 90% of the costs for Medicaid expansion and is currently kicking in additional funding through the American Rescue Plan. Oklahomans 18 to 65 years old earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level — a bit more than $17,200 a year for an individual — can enroll at mysoonercare.org.

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