- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Facing a $1.3 billion hole in next year’s budget, the Oklahoma House on Wednesday passed legislation that would cut 111,000 Oklahoma residents with dependents from Medicaid and potentially save up to $130 million in state-appropriated health care funds.

But implementation of the measure is dependent on the federal government’s approval of a waiver that would permit the state to exclude adults younger than 65 who are not pregnant, deaf, blind or disabled from the program, said Jo Kilgore, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state’s Medicaid provider.

Kilgore said 794,919 of Oklahoma’s 3.9 million citizens are enrolled in its Medicaid program.

Voting mostly along party lines, House members passed the measure 65-34 and sent it to the state Senate for debate and a vote. The bill by Rep. Doug Cox received strong support from Republicans.

Cox, an emergency room physician, said his bill is an attempt to help fill the budget gap by targeting the state’s least vulnerable Medicaid recipients.

“The budget crisis is here. The budget crisis is serious,” the Grove Republican said during debate on the measure.

“As a physician my heart is with those people,” he added, but “you have to protect those who cannot help themselves.”

Opponents, including Democratic Rep. Chuck Hoskin of Vinita, said the legislation would likely harm hospitals in rural areas that would be forced to treat growing numbers of uninsured residents.

“It’s a sad situation when we have to make choices like this,” Hoskin said.

“We’re going to go after the least among us. What in the world are we doing?” Democratic Rep. James Lockhart of Heavener said.

House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Del City said Oklahoma hospitals already incur $600 million a year in uncompensated care and that rural health care in the state is on the verge of bankruptcy.

The measure would affect adults with an annual household income less than $9,500 and at least one dependent child. Many would be single parents with preschool-age children.

A fiscal analysis prepared by legislative staff members says it would impact people who receive Medicaid benefits due to their relationship as a parent or caretaker for a child already enrolled in Medicaid.

Cox said the legislation would not affect the child’s Medicaid status and that the parent would continue to be eligible for various subsidies to help pay rent and utilities. He said those affected by the bill are people Medicaid was not originally intended to serve.

Supporters said the measure is one of many difficult choices lawmakers will have to make as they work to balance next year’s budget.

“It’s on the backs of all Oklahomans,” Republican Rep. Lewis Moore of Arcadia said.

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Online:

House Bill 2665: http://bit.ly/21DsbHm

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