Getting the Oklahoma state budget nailed down will rank among the most pressing issues facing lawmakers when they return to the Capitol on February 1.
Governor Kevin Stitt said the state’s fiscal outlook is looking better.
“We are not going to have a budget shortfall and the reason we're not is because we fully reopened our economy in June and that is going to have a huge effect, where other states are facing billions of dollars in deficits,” Stitt said.
The governor said the state will not be forced to cut any core services like education, public safety, health and transportation in the upcoming session. Lawmakers will, however, must figure out how to fund a $164 million Medicaid expansion approved by voters in 2020.
Coinciding with the expansion is the governor’s push to privatize SoonerCare, the state’s Medicaid system. Earlier this week, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority voted 6-3 authorizing the agency’s CEO to begin negotiating managed care contracts up to $2.1 billion.
The move brought swift bipartisan concern from Oklahoma lawmakers, many of whom feel like the move should have gone through the legislature instead of the nonelected board.
“As governor of the state of Oklahoma, I have authority and I’m supposed to be running our state agencies more efficiently,” Stitt said.
According to the governor, Oklahoma would be the only state in the country with Medicaid expansion but without a managed care system. The goal of the for-profit system is to drive down state cost while increasing health benefits.
“I get it,” Stitt said. “If I’m a provider and I can send invoices into the state of Oklahoma and nobody questions you, and you just pay those invoices no matter what, I wouldn't want anything to change too if I was a businessperson.”
Several state medical associations are expressing concern after the heath care authority’s Tuesday vote.
“It’s really disingenuous for some of these providers to complain and say that they’re going to go out of business,” Stitt said. “Number one were putting $1 billion back in the system and there’s hospitals in Texas and Tennessee and in Iowa, Missouri and Kansas and all of these states that have the exact same model. We are just modernizing our system here on the state of Oklahoma.”