OKLAHOMA CITY - Changes are on the way for Medicaid in Oklahoma, despite criticism and warnings from experts around the country who say new state policies and proposals could force thousands of Oklahoma families off coverage.

In 2018, Oklahoma became the 11th state to call for at least 20-hours of work for families on the state-run health care.

Former Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order telling the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to begin work on how to move forward with the plan. The proposal was approved by the federal government late last year.

The state-run Medicaid program, known as SoonerCare covers roughly 789,000 people, or about 1 in 5 Oklahomans.

Work requirements have been criticized by doctors and health care providers alike who say if parents can't work, it could force families to lose vital access to care. One of the most-dire and the most recent prediction came from a new study from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families which estimated as many as 13,000 Oklahomans could lose coverage. 

“The new work reporting requirements would predominantly affect Oklahoma’s poorest mothers,” the study’s authors wrote. “The impact could hit hardest in Oklahoma’s small towns and rural communities, where parents are more likely to receive Medicaid and where jobs are harder to find.”

Officials at the OHCA have repeatedly pushed back on the estimates outlined in the study, calling the numbers premature. Katelynn Burns from the OHCA said because the agency doesn’t know the official exemptions list they have no way to have an accurate estimate of how many people work requirements could affect. Despite that, the authority is still tasked with moving forward with the requirements. 

“At this point in time until we know what the exemption list looks like, who this will and will not affect, we can't really speculate as to how many people it can affect,” Burns said.

The OHCA is currently in a “cool down period” after public comment ended Jan. 18. The agency is awaiting further direction from the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services before the requirements officially go into place.

Another potential change for patients is a state plan to clean up Medicaid rolls by sending letters to patients to check the accuracy of names and addresses. If the letters can't be delivered or aren't returned, a patient could lose coverage. Homeless advocates and rural hospitals are all voicing concern. and in one of the harshest rebukes a top official for the Oklahoma Hospital Association called the proposal "A bad idea" in public comments.

Officials with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority also tasked with this rollout said they have a plan in case a letter can't be delivered.

“We'll follow it up with a phone call we will make an effort to reach out to them to try to update their address and get the correct information,” Burns said adding emails would also be sent to patients if an email address is available.

Burns and other officials at OHCA stressed the importance of patients, hospitals and health care providers to work together to make sure they’re Medicaid and Medicare information is up to date.

The proposal to send out the letters still needs approval from the OHCA Board. The next meeting is Feb. 14.