Hundreds protest Fallin's rejection of 'Obamacare' funds for Medicaid expansion at OKC rally
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
2/06/13 at 7:51 AM
Read the Tulsa World continuing coverage of the health care law.
OKLAHOMA CITY - A small but enthusiastic crowd held a protest at the state Capitol on Tuesday to confront Gov. Mary Fallin's decision not to accept federal "Obamacare" money to expand Medicaid coverage for some 180,000 Oklahomans.
While protesters, many of whom traveled from Tulsa by bus Tuesday morning, voiced their disagreement with the governor's Medicaid decision, a copy of an electronic petition on the issue, signed by more than 5,000 people, was delivered to Fallin's office.
"This issue is not just about health. It is a civil rights issue," Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, said at the rally. "Ray Charles can see (that) if you have an opportunity to fund these projects, you are a fool to turn it away."
Fallin said last year that the state wouldn't accept Affordable Care Act funds to expand Medicaid, a point she reiterated Monday in her State of the State speech.
The governor has argued that the state's share of the expansion costs is potentially astronomical, but protesters Tuesday argued that her choice was about politics, not money.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would pick up 100 percent of the costs of benefit expansion for the first three years. Thereafter, a gradually increasing share of the costs would shift to the state, capping at 10 percent in 2020.
The state is also responsible for millions in increased administrative costs that would come with Medicaid expansion.
Several of Tuesday's speakers, including Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, who is a physician, said Fallin could change her mind, as other Republican governors have, about the Medicaid issue.
A spokesman for the governor said that wasn't going to happen.
"Governor Fallin has made her decision and is not going to revisit the issue," said Alex Weintz, Fallin's spokesman. "As she has said repeatedly, she does not support either Obamacare or the unaffordable Medicaid expansion contained within it. She is focused on pursuing an Oklahoma plan to improve health and wellness in the state."
In her State of the State speech Monday, Fallin outlined an "Oklahoma Plan" alternative to Medicaid expansion, including local options in regulating smoking, more state funding for key mental-health programs and more state money to improve infant-mortality rates.
But Tuesday's speakers said the state must also act compassionately toward the uninsured and take the federal money to pay for it.
"We are our brothers' keepers. We are responsible to each other," said Dr. Carl Rubenstein, a physician and vice president of the Oklahoma Interfaith Alliance. "We can afford to do so, and we should."
The 90-minute event drew 200 to 300 people to the north side of the Capitol, and after the speeches, ralliers went into the building to lobby legislators on the issue.
Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, told the ralliers not to forget to mention how Medicaid expansion could create jobs, increase the state's economy, retain tax dollars in the state and create a healthier workforce.
"We have a duty to be responsible to the needs of Oklahomans," she said.
If accepted, the Medicaid expansion would extend health-care coverage to all Oklahomans living in households earning as much as 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
At the present, only elderly, blind and disabled people, pregnant women, and children are eligible for Medicaid in Oklahoma.
If the expansion money isn't accepted, some 150,000 uninsured poor Oklahomans will be left without health-care coverage because they don't qualify for Medicaid and earn too little to qualify to participate in a federally subsidized health insurance exchange.
Among those in the crowd Tuesday was Tulsan Molly Schneider, who held a sign drawn like a Valentine's Day card to Fallin.
"Dear Mary, Roses are red; Violets are blue; Thousands of Oklahomans will die without health care thanks to you," the sign read.
Schneider said she realized that her poem's meter was off, but in this case message was more important.
"I'm here because I want Mary Fallin to know we need this Medicaid expansion," she said. "We are astonished that she turned this money down.
"We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Everybody who knows anything about it knows that."
Original Print Headline: Health-care protest
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Margaret Love shouts encouragement to a speaker at Tuesday's rally at the state Capitol, which drew about 300 people who favor the expansion of Medicaid. Love and a friend, Joyce Smith-Williams, traveled from Tulsa to participate in the rally. JIM BECKEL/The Oklahoman
State Sen. Jabar Shumate speaks to the crowd at Tuesday's rally at the Capitol. Protesters hope Gov. Mary Fallin will reverse her stance on Medicaid expansion. JIM BECKEL/The Oklahoman
Donald Williams, 57, an uninsured diabetes patient from Oklahoma City, was among those in attendance. JIM BECKEL/The Oklahoman
Johnny Mansfield of Oklahoma City holds a pitchfork with a sign saying that "the peasants are revolting." Mansfield said he attended Tuesday's rally at the state Capitol to encourage people to "stand up against the 1 percent." He added, "We need to stand up for our rights, just like the gun owners." JIM BECKEL/The Oklahoman