Oklahoma Medicaid agency says goodbye to director

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The agency that administers Oklahoma's Medicaid program said goodbye to its longtime director Thursday, while promising to still explore new ways to deliver health care services to the state's uninsured.

Mike Fogarty, 64, is stepping down as CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority effective March 1. He announced his retirement in September, two months before Gov. Mary Fallin rejected an opportunity to expand the state's Medicaid program under the federal health care overhaul law to provide services to 200,000 uninsured, low-income Oklahomans.

Last month, the authority's board of directors approved a $500,000 contract with Leavitt Partners, a Utah-based health care consultant, to study ways to provide services to the uninsured, which comprises almost 20 percent of Oklahoma's population. Agency officials have said they hope to develop recommendations for the Legislature by early May.

Fogarty has served as the agency's CEO since 1999 and was its state Medicaid director before that. He started with the state in 1971, as a social worker at the Department of Human Services.

Agency board members praised Fogarty at Thursday's board meeting, his last as CEO. The board has selected former deputy CEO Nico Gomez to replace Fogarty.

"We've been a very successful organization as a result of your leadership," the board's chairman, Charles McFall, said.

After the meeting, Fogarty said Fallin's decision to reject expansion of the state's Medicaid program will have no effect on services the agency already provides. Fallin has proposed a $40 million increase in Medicaid spending next year to meet the costs of the additional enrollees as well as the rising costs of medical treatment and fixed expenses.

"We'll keep running the program that we've got," Fogarty said.

Information released during the meeting indicates more than 700,000 Oklahomans were covered by Medicaid in December.

Expanding the program would have allowed Oklahomans earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $30,000 for a family of four, to be eligible for Medicaid coverage. Under current law, only children in families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level are Medicaid-eligible.

Fallin has said expanding the program is unaffordable. Fallin cited a report from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, which found that expanding Medicaid to cover additional enrollees would cost the state $689 million between 2013 and 2022.

Fallin has said she wants an "Oklahoma-based solution" to increasing health insurance coverage in the state, something Fogarty said could include Insure Oklahoma. That program, originally enacted in 2004, helps small businesses provide health care coverage for their low- and middle-income employees and reduce the state's uninsured residents.

Funded by revenue from the state's tobacco tax and federal matching dollars, the public-private partnership has enrolled more than 30,000 Oklahomans in employee-sponsored or individual health insurance plans. But it is scheduled to lose its federal funding at the end of the year because most people eligible for the program would have been absorbed into the expanded Medicaid program.

"Where are the resources to do that?" Fogarty said.

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