People attend an April 24 rally at the Oklahoma Capitol in support of Medicaid expansion in the state. Signatures have been gathered to put the prospect on a ballot. NATE BILLINGS/The Oklahoman file

OKLAHOMA CITY — Supporters of an effort to let voters decide to expand Medicaid will turn in their signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office on Thursday.

Amber England, a spokeswoman for the Yes on 802 campaign, said supporters obtained more than the 177,958 signatures needed to ask voters to amend the Oklahoma Constitution to expand Medicaid.

“We are confident a number we turn in sends a message loud and clear that Oklahomans want to decide this issue,” England said.

The issue will be on a ballot in 2020, she predicted.

Gov. Kevin Stitt can put it on the general election ballot or a special election ballot, she said.

“If Medicaid expansion passes in the state of Oklahoma, it will deliver health care to 200,000 Oklahomans that go without coverage now and bring back over $1 billion a year of taxpayers’ dollars from (Washington) D.C. to invest back into communities,” she said. “It can help save our rural hospitals, and Oklahomans will be able to decide their own health care.”

She said she expects a full media campaign to educate voters about the need for Medicaid expansion.

The effort already withstood one legal challenge but could draw a challenge to the signatures and to the ballot language, she said.

In June, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the gist of the petition, a description of the measure that appears on the petition signatures sheets, is not misleading and was sufficient.

The challenge was brought by Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and two medical professionals.

England said the OCPA has shown that it is willing to do anything to prevent Oklahomans from voting on the issue.

“We fully expect a challenge from them,” she said.

Small said his organization will not know if it will file a challenge until it sees what has been filed with the secretary of state.

He said Medicaid expansion will not solve the problems supporters say it will, predicting that it won’t help rural heath care or lower prices for all Oklahomans.

He said hospitals are still increasing prices and that emergency room use is up. The vast majority of the money spent ends up in urban hospitals “that are already wealthy anyway,” Small said.

“It comes with a massive price tag,” he said.

Small was asked if the OCPA anticipated funding a campaign to oppose the measure should it make the ballot.

“I would suspect you would see a separate entity educating people specifically about State Question 802 and encouraging them to oppose it and support something else,” Small said.

Meanwhile, a legislative working group has provided some ideas for improving the state’s health outcomes to Stitt’s office, which is expected to announce something in the coming weeks.

“The governor believes State Question 802 is not in the best interest of Oklahomans, and he opposes putting Obamacare into the state’s constitution,” said Baylee Lakey, a spokeswoman. “The governor and state agencies are actively working to craft a health care plan that is right for Oklahoma, and we will share that plan when it is finalized.”

Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, is co-chairman of the legislative working group.

He said Medicaid expansion came up several times but that the group’s primary focus was on ways to improve the overall health-care landscape.

“We ran the gamut as far as trying to figure out why Oklahoma is as unhealthy as it is,” McEntire said. “It is a huge spider web of issues, concerns and problems.”

He said a lot of recommendations were sent to leadership.

“We don’t know if our recommendations are congruent with what the governor wants to do,” McEntire added.

He said he does not support the ballot measure, which he says ties the hands of the Legislature should the federal government change course in how it funds Medicaid expansion or coverage mandates.

“I like the idea of expanding Medicaid,” McEntire said. “I think it is good for people, hospitals and the overall health outcomes for the state. However, there is a concern that enrollment will be higher than what we anticipate and costs could get out of control.”

The ballot initiative came after several years of refusal by lawmakers to expand Medicaid.

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Barbara Hoberock


Twitter: @bhoberock

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