With two weeks to spare, supporters of an initiative petition to expand Medicaid and reduce Oklahoma’s unacceptably high uninsured rate say they have enough signatures to force a statewide vote.
Since 2014, the federal government has offered to pay the lion’s share of the cost for offering Medicaid coverage to working-age adults who earn less than 138% of the federal poverty level. For a cost of roughly $100 million, Oklahoma could have $1 billion in funding to pay for health care coverage of the state’s poorest people.
But — driven by partisan politics rather than good policy — the state’s elected officials have refused the money. Oklahoma is one of only 14 holdout states for Medicaid expansion, and, not surprisingly, it has the second highest rate of uninsured people in the nation.
Tired of waiting for Oklahoma lawmakers to do the right thing, the Yes on 802 campaign launched this summer. If passed by a vote of the people, the group’s proposal would rewrite the state’s Constitution to require acceptance of the Medicaid money.
A petition-driven constitutional amendment requires the verified signatures of 178,000 Oklahoma voters. The group said last week that it had gone over that minimum.
Of course, the state will have to do its own signature counting, and petition-passers aren’t stopping at 178,000. The petition’s deadline is Oct. 28, and the group will want to build up a cushion in that period to make sure there is no question about whether there will be a vote or not.
The petition is a sterling example of the people taking the lead when elected officials fail to act. Refusing Medicaid expansion funding keeps Oklahomans poor and sick. It weakens the state workforce; it endangers the financial viability of rural hospitals, and it turns away a huge influx of funding that would grow the state’s economy.
Oklahomans have been paying for Medicaid expansion for years, they just haven’t gotten any of its benefits because of the stubborn partisanship of state leaders.
The Yes on 802 campaign is quickly proving that Oklahomans don’t have the time or patience for that kind of regressive thinking.