An epic political battle over the state’s health care future is shaping up next year.
The Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office has announced that an initiative petition to expand Medicaid eligibility in Oklahoma to include thousands of working poor adults gathered 299,731 valid signatures. That’s well over the 178,000 needed to get the proposed constitutional amendment on a statewide ballot as State Question 802.
Proponents of the proposal will argue that Oklahoma is being held back by politically motivated forces that refuse to accept about $1 billion a year to expand Medicaid, improve the health of the state’s workforce, spur the state economy, ensure the financial viability of rural hospitals, protect public health and reduce the amount of uninsured cost-shifting to insured patients. They’ll also make the point that Oklahomans are paying federal taxes to fund Medicaid expansion at the same time we refuse the funded services.
Opponents will argue that the measure will commit Oklahoma to future Medicaid costs (although the federal government is committed to pay for 90% forever), increase the load on the federal budget (although Oklahomans are already paying taxes to support the program) and restrict the state’s ability to shape the way medical services are offered (although the state’s political leaders have repeatedly rejected that option). Some will also argue that working-age adults should be able to provide their own insurance, although private insurance is beyond the financial reach of those potentially covered by Medicaid expansion.
We expect well financed, professional campaigns on both sides. Hospitals and many business leaders will line up for expansion. Gov. Kevin Stitt, a popular statewide figure with a strong business resume, will likely lead the opposition.
For years, we have pleaded with the state to come up with a viable solution to its health insurance crisis. More than 450,000 Oklahoma adults have no health care coverage, giving the state the second-highest uninsured rate in the nation. If only a portion of the people who would directly benefit from Medicaid expansion would participate in the upcoming election, their voice could be decisive.
After years of debate, SQ 802 will likely resolve the Medicaid expansion issue once and for all. If it passes, Oklahoma will be a financially and physically healthier state. If it fails, we will continue as we are: sick, poor and unwilling to do anything about it.