Officials say more people enrolling in state Medicaid system

Monday, June 24th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Enrollment in Oklahoma's Medicaid system is rising so fast it could become a crisis, a state official said.

``What I see is another cycle of running short into the fiscal year,'' said George Miller, chairman of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority's financial review subcommittee. ``They continue to think enrollment will peak, but it doesn't.''

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Medicaid provides health care for poor and disabled residents and is available to anyone who meets eligibility requirements.

Enrollment has increased so rapidly that a statewide advocacy group is downsizing its campaign to enroll more women and children in Medicaid programs.

``I think it's very important that we insure as many children as we can,'' Miller said. ``That's one of the reasons the Oklahoma Health Care Authority was created _ to broaden the Medicaid program. The other side of the coin is the resources may not be there to pay for all these enrollees.''

Anne Garcia, the authority's chief financial officer, said the agency is projecting a 9 percent growth in enrollment in the next fiscal year.

Dr. Lynn Mitchell, Medicaid director for the authority, said signs of trouble began appearing as early as August. By December, enrollment numbers were increasing at an alarming rate, she said.

Enrollment in so-called SoonerCare increased to 319,365 people in December, up by 8,451 people or 9 percent in November.

More than half of SoonerCare recipients polled by officials said they had experienced a financial status change, Mitchell said. Loss of insurance was the second most frequent reason for Medicaid enrollment, she said.

Mitchell said the agency had prepared its fiscal 2002 budget in May 2001 with no idea what enrollment would be.

The 2002 budget took another hit because of rising health care costs and prescription drug prices. The Legislature had to authorize supplemental funds to keep the Medicaid system afloat.

Mitchell said Medicaid enrollment is likely to stay high for 12 to 18 months as the nation recovers from a recession.

Only the federal government can place enrollment caps on the system.

The typical Medicaid recipient is a child of parents whose incomes meet the health care program's criteria for eligibility, Mitchell said. The typical parent is unable to afford health insurance and does not have a job that offers employee benefits.