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To our health

New initiative aims to put Medicaid expansion on the 2020 ballot

Joseph Brooks from Comanche County advocates for Medicaid expansion during the Rally to Expand Coverage at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Jezy J. Gray

It’s no secret that Oklahoma’s healthcare system is in crisis. According to a report by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the state’s uninsured rate rose from 13.8 to 14.2 percent in 2017, the last year data was available, obliterating the national average of 8.7 for the same year. 

Oklahoma’s poverty rate is also higher than the national average, at 15.8 percent. This gap has been widened every year since 2013. Not only is Oklahoma one of the most uninsured states in the union, but more Oklahomans are becoming vulnerable to the effects of remaining uninsured.

But it gets worse. Oklahoma also has the fourth-highest childhood uninsured rate in the country. 8.1 percent of Oklahoma children live without insurance, and that number has grown since 2016.

The Affordable Care Act met legal challenges from Republican legislatures as soon as it was passed. As a result of this litigation, states currently have the right to reject federal money intended to expand state Medicaid services. For Oklahoma, that means turning down roughly $3.6 billion over the last 
seven years. 

As a result, the rate of uninsured Oklahomans has not fallen at the same rate as the national average, and has even gotten worse recently. Gov. Stitt has issued assurances that his administration would offer a “Plan B” alternative to expanding Medicaid, but has not offered details about what such a plan would look like.

But a new initiative aims to change this bleak reality. Earlier this month, Oklahomans Decide Healthcare was formed with the goal of putting Medicaid expansion on the 2020 ballot. If passed, the plan would bring home roughly $1 billion in federal funds to expand coverage.

“Folks in other states are getting healthcare that over 200,000 Oklahomans are not getting,” said Oklahomans Decide spokesperson Amber England.

The petition faced a legal challenge from the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, on the grounds that the gist was flawed, and that the proposed law would grant power to the federal government that should belong to the State Legislature. They further argued that expanding Medicaid would create an entitlement program controlled by the federal government at the cost of the state. On June 19, the State Supreme Court rejected those arguments.

Critics say expanding Medicaid would place too much financial strain on the state, but the federal government would pay 90 percent of the cost under the plan, providing essential care to Oklahomans who would otherwise go without treatment. Proponents of the initiative see it not only as an opportunity to do right by Oklahoma’s most vulnerable residents, but to reclaim federal tax dollars.

“We are losing over a billion dollars a year, that we’re sending out to Washington D.C.,” England said. “That’s taxpayer dollars we’re already sending in to Washington. We’re just not recapturing it into our communities.”

Although the exact date has yet to be set by the Secretary of State, the group hopes to begin taking up signatures around the end of July or early August. They will need 178,000 signatures to reach the 2020 ballot

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