If the Oklahoma Legislature wants to lead state health care policy from the front, time is running out.
Two Oklahoma voters, supported by a high-end Oklahoma City law firm and others, have filed an initiative petition that would put “Obamacare” Medicaid expansion into the Oklahoma Constitution.
If the petition withstands possible legal challenges, the group will have three months to gather the signatures of nearly 178,000 Oklahoma voters. If the petition drive is successful, the issue would go before voters as State Question 802 in the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election.
The petition mandates that Oklahoma’s Medicaid program cover eligible low-income adults, those between ages 18 and 65 who earn up to 133% of the federal poverty rate. It also restricts the Legislature’s ability to place any additional restrictions — such as an employment requirement — on eligibility.
Oklahoma lawmakers have piddled around on the Medicaid expansion issue for years, vacillating between a desire to improve the health of the state’s workforce and partisan opposition to anything with Barack Obama’s name on it. A decent proposal to use Medicaid funding to provide private insurance to eligible adults through the efficient and popular Insure Oklahoma program was proposed this year, but missed a legislative deadline. Other opportunities remain, but only if the Legislature acts.
Oklahoma’s rural hospitals are struggling financially because the state won’t take part in a program with 90% federal funding.
Increasingly, Oklahoma taxpayers are wondering why they pay the same federal taxes to support “Obamacare” as the rest of the nation but aren’t able to see its benefits. Oklahoma has the second highest adult uninsured rate in the nation.
If the Legislature acts now, it can create a program individualized to Oklahoma’s situation and fashioned to protect the state if the federal government changes its funding commitment.
If it does not, it can watch while voters decide the issue.