A petition to expand Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, protect the finances of the state’s rural hospitals and bring about a billion dollars a year in federal funding to the state has been cleared for circulation starting Wednesday.

Organizers of the campaign have until 5 p.m. Oct. 28 to gather the signatures of nearly 178,000 registered voters. Oklahomans Decide Healthcare, a pro-expansion advocacy group, is organizing volunteer signature-gathering efforts.

The Oklahoma Legislature has piddled around with modified Medicaid expansion ideas for years. Those ideas have included stipulations that Medicaid-funded health care be carried through private insurance companies and that benefits come with work requirements for some people.

But so far, the Legislature has accomplished nothing. More than 450,000 working-age Oklahomans have no health care coverage. When their medical problems become a crisis, they end up in hospital emergency rooms, adding to the uncompensated medical expenses that are pushing rural hospitals to the brink and driving up the premiums of insured Oklahomans.

Oklahoma is one of only 14 states that continues to refuse Medicaid expansion. Only one state — Texas — has an uninsured rate higher than Oklahoma. We are paying for expansion in other states, but not getting any of its benefits for our people, hospitals and economy.

Oklahoma’s health care outcomes are among the worst in the nation. Diabetes, addictions, cancer and heart disease kill a disproportionate share of the state’s population.

It’s a solvable problem, and a big part of that solution is taking advantage of available federal funding to make sure Oklahomans have access to health care.

The petition goes around lawmakers. Medicaid expansion would come to the state as described in the Affordable Care Act. The federal government would pay for 90% of the coverage costs of citizens who earn up to 133% of the federal poverty level. No work requirement. No private carriers.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, who opposes the petition, and lawmakers say they are still working on their own plans; but starting Wednesday, Oklahomans who are tired of waiting for a solution from the state Capitol can start forging their own plan.

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