By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Medicaid's getting the lion's share of stimulus money in the state, nearly $900 million.
One out of five Oklahomans relies on Medicaid for health care. When the economy suffers, the demand increases, putting an additional financial burden on the state. Federal stimulus dollars are helping to lessen that burden.
"This money was very important in order to prevent cuts to services or benefits to over 800,000 Oklahomans we serve every year," said Nico Gomez, the director of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
The state could receive close to $900 million stimulus dollars for Medicaid. For every dollar the state puts into the program, the federal government usually provides a two dollar match. The stimulus adds another dollar to the pot. That means for every one state dollar, now the federal government adds three.
"The intent was to keep the program level at where it is now, not make any radical expansions but to be able to afford the need," Gomez said.
In July of 2008, just over 600,000 people were on Medicaid. In July of 2009, that number rose to 650,000.
"We're seeing a lot of working class families that, with the cost of health care or their jobs don't offer it, they have no idea where to go and Medicaid is their option," said Brain Sharp, Pediatric Program Manager for Variety Health Center.
Ninety-five percent of Variety Health Center's patients are on Medicaid. The non-profit health center treats 5,500 patients a year with close to 27,000 health care visits.
"It helps a lot," said Nohemi Veloz whose four kids are on Medicaid. She takes them to Variety Health Center for checkups. She cannot afford to pay for health care on her own.
"I've got a little girl with Down Syndrome, and my two boys, they have asthma, and it's hard," Veloz said.
The injection of funds from the stimulus package prevented cuts to services in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has received about $5 million in state budget cuts so far. The agency has stimulus dollars to help make up for that loss in revenue.
"Are we out of the woods yet, absolutely not. There's potentially tough decisions down the road that have to be made and we're hoping for a quick economic rebound, so it'll take some of that pressure off," said Nico Gomez, Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
The stimulus money will run out on January 1, 2011. At that point, if the demand is still high, the state will have to come up with additional funding for the program or the program will face cuts.