Oklahoma Supreme Court (copy)

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is pictured in this file photo. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World file

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a challenge to an initiative petition seeking to let Oklahomans vote on expanding Medicaid in the state.

The ruling came just hours after it heard oral arguments in a legal challenge brought by Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and two medical professionals.

“Our mantra has been that Oklahoma voters should get the chance to decide what’s best when it comes to our health care,” said Amber England, a spokeswoman for Oklahomans Decide Healthcare, which supports the measure. “Today, the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed with us.”

The court ruled that the gist of the petition, a description of the measure that appears on the petition signature sheets, is not misleading and is sufficient.

“The gist informs signers of what the proposed amendment is intended to do — ‘expand Oklahoma’s Medicaid program to include certain low-income adults between the ages of 18 and 65 whose income does not exceed 133 percent of the federal poverty level, as permitted under the federal Medicaid laws,’” the opinion says.

During oral arguments, justices peppered both sides with questions.

Petitioners alleged that the gist was fatally flawed and that the question is unconstitutional because it delegates authority granted to the Legislature to the federal government.

Travis Jett, an attorney for the petitioners, asked the court to strike the measure from the ballot.

He said the gist says it would expand Medicaid eligibility to people within 133 percent of the federal poverty level while the federal Affordable Care Act requires expansion to cover adults at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Melanie Rughani, an attorney for supporters of the state question, said that when calculating income for Medicaid eligibility, there is a 5 percentage point “income disregard,” which effectively raises the limit to 138% of the federal poverty level.

“It is not a question about whether the gist is accurate,” she said. “It is. It is sufficient.”

She said using 138 percent in the gist would not be accurate.

Jett said the Oklahoma Legislature would be required to fund the Medicaid expansion.

Petitioners also allege that the Medicaid expansion would create a massive entitlement program for which the federal government would control eligibility and cost to the state.

But Rughani took issue with the welfare program claim, citing several examples of mandates for public funding, including the right to a free public education.

“I urge the court to allow the petition to go forward,” she said.

In its ruling, the court denied the remaining challenges to the constitutionality of the initiative petition.

Small said the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs was disappointed in the ruling. He said the petition does not let Oklahomans know they would be required to pay for Medicaid expansion.

Small said the proposal is a bad idea for the state.

Supporters need about 178,000 signatures to get the measure on the 2020 ballot.

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Barbara Hoberock



Twitter: @bhoberock

Capitol Bureau Writer

Barbara has covered the statehouse since 1994. She covers politics, appellate courts and state agencies. She has worked for the Tulsa World since 1990. Phone: 405-528-2465

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