Medicaid advocates submit ballot measure signature petitions
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Supporters of a plan to expand Medicaid to thousands of low-income Oklahomans delivered dozens of boxes of signed petitions to state election workers Thursday, demanding that the issue be placed on a statewide ballot next year.
Following a three-month signature-gathering campaign, advocates of State Question 802 carried 61 boxes of signed petitions into the Secretary of State’s Office for verification. The signatures of about 178,000 registered voters are needed to get the question on the ballot, and supporters say they obtained about 313,000 signatures.
“That speaks to how personal that issue is to Oklahomans across the state. We have a mandate from voters,” said Amber England, manager of the Yes on 802 campaign.
The measure would amend Oklahoma’s constitution and expand Medicaid coverage to adults between ages 18 and 65 whose income does not exceed 133% of the federal poverty level, making Medicaid available to about 200,000 Oklahomans who can’t afford health insurance.
More than 540,000 Oklahomans did not have health insurance in 2017, according to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, Oklahoma’s Medicaid provider. England said passage of the measure would generate about $1 billion in health care dollars from the federal government to provide health care for thousands of single parents and rural resident and support rural hospitals.
Roughly 90% of the state’s Medicaid expansion would be funded with federal money, but Republican legislative leaders have expressed concern that Oklahoma’s share would cost too much.
Earlier this year, a challenge to the initiative petition filed by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, was blocked by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
OCPA’s president, Jonathan Small, said expanding Medicaid could cost state taxpayers as much as $374 million a year.
“And, based on what has occurred in other states, Medicaid expansion will primarily benefit wealthy urban hospitals while doing little for rural communities, which will continue to see hospitals close,” Small said in a statement.
Amy Canton, director of executive-legislative division of the state Secretary of State’s Office, said she hopes to have the signatures counted within two weeks. Opponents will then have 10 days to challenge the validity of the signatures.
Canton said the number of signatures that the petition’s supporters claim they have gathered, 313,000, would be a state record for an initiative petition if verified. The previous highest number was 301,512 signatures submitted for State Question 779 , a proposal to raise the state sales tax by one cent for public education which was defeated by voters in November 2016.
“I think the number of signatures we turned in speaks for itself. Oklahomans should decide this issue,” England said.