OKLAHOMA CITY — Medicaid expansion supporters on Thursday delivered more than 313,000 signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office in an effort to get the issue before voters.
The number was well above the nearly 178,000 required to get State Question 802 on the 2020 ballot.
Amber England, a spokeswoman for Yes on 802, said it was a record number of signatures, showing widespread support for the measure.
“From Guymon to Broken Bow and from Altus to Miami, this campaign has been everywhere, and we have been overwhelmed by the tremendous outpouring of support for Medicaid expansion across this state,” England said.
She said the issue is personal to every Oklahoman because every resident knows someone who needs access to care and is not getting it.
England said the Oklahoma Legislature, which declined to expand Medicaid, has “kicked the can down the road.”
Supporters included hospital administrators, patients, medical professionals, signature collectors and members of the clergy.
England said supporters canvassed festivals, neighborhoods and sporting events across the state to collect signatures.
“We are here to send a mandate that we are ready for Oklahomans to decide this issue at the ballot box,” England said, drawing applause from supporters at a Capitol news conference.
The measure, if approved, would provide care to 200,000 people and bring back $1 billion a year of Oklahoma’s tax dollars to invest in communities, provide care and create jobs, England said.
Since 2016, eight rural hospitals have declared bankruptcy and six have shut down, England said.
Ashton Gores is a medical student in Tulsa and Yes on 802 campaign volunteer.
She said she comes from a rural area and has worked in impoverished areas of large cities.
“I have seen firsthand exactly what the real life struggles are of Oklahomans who don’t have access to affordable care,” Gores said. “I have seen members of my own family and friends that had to rough it through broken bones and who had alarmingly high diabetic blood sugars. They just don’t go see the doctor because they can’t afford it.”
She said she has seen people forego care because it is too far away.
“You know, I think we don’t need to be making that choice between who needs it and who can pay for it,” Gores said. “I am not willing to make that choice.”
Families are struggling for basic access to health care and decide to put food on the table instead of getting lifesaving treatment, Gores said.
“Illness doesn’t care about a political party,” she said. “Illness doesn’t care what part of the state you live in. Illness doesn’t care how much money you have in your bank account.”
For Oklahomans who are only one accident or illness away from financial ruin, the coverage is vital, necessary and needed in a system that has been broken for too long, said the Rev. Shannon Fleck, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches.
Fleck called Medicaid expansion a human and moral issue.
“An individual’s life should never be a political debate,” Fleck said, drawing applause.
England said step one was getting to the ballot.
“We are not going to stop now,” she said. “Nothing is going to slow us down.”
On Thursday, supporters carried signs that read “Keep rural hospitals open,” and “Time’s up.”
As they carried the dozens of boxes containing signatures into the office, they chanted “Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.”