- Associated Press - Friday, June 27, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - An Oklahoma health authority has voted to increase copayments for Medicaid participants in hopes of filling a $104 million budget shortfall blamed on decreases in federal funding and a drop in tobacco tax revenue.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers Oklahoma’s Medicaid program for the poor called SoonerCare, approved several rule changes Thursday, including a plan that increases most Medicaid copayments from $3 to $4.

Board chairman Ed McFall, a pharmacist from rural Oklahoma, encouraged several meeting attendees to contact their lawmakers and tell them what impact the budget cuts will have on them personally.

“If you don’t let them know these cuts are affecting your communities, next year’s budget decisions will likely be more of the same or even worse, and the solution of this problem is not right here at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. The solution of this problem lies at 23rd and Lincoln,” McFall said, referring to the state Capitol.

David Blatt, the executive director of the nonpartisan think tank Oklahoma Policy Institute, spoke against the increases, saying most Medicaid participants are on fixed incomes and couldn’t afford any increase. Blatt also said he was frustrated with the budget cuts because Oklahoma could have received millions in federal funding had the state expanded its Medicaid program under the federal health care law.

Oklahoma is one of the Republican-led states that decided not to expand the Medicaid program because of opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“This proposal to raise copayments … is the wrong choice,” Blatt said. “This directly affects the empty pocketbooks of Medicaid recipients. These are low-income parents, seniors, those with disabilities and chronic health conditions. Some are taking four to six medications a month. This is an extra $15 to $20 in cost, which many Medicaid recipients just don’t have.”

The changes take effect Tuesday or immediately upon Gov. Mary Fallin’s signature.

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