The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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February 5, 2013

Hundreds urge Oklahoma governor to expand Medicaid

OKLAHOMA CITY — Hundreds of people rallied at the state Capitol on Tuesday and urged Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin to reconsider her rejection of a Medicaid expansion that would provide health insurance to an estimated 200,000 working poor in the state.

After about 200 people gathered on the north steps of the Capitol, some holding signs that read "Health Care is a Human Right" and "Expand Medicaid Now," organizers delivered more than 5,000 signatures from an online petition urging the Republican governor to reconsider her decision.

Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said the governor's office received the petition but has no plans to revisit the issue.

"As she has said repeatedly, she does not support either Obamacare or the unaffordable Medicaid expansion contained within it," Weintz said. "She is focused on pursuing an Oklahoma plan to improve health and wellness in the state."

Despite support from hospital and medical officials and chambers of commerce, Fallin in November rejected the option under the federal health care law to expand the state's Medicaid program to include Oklahomans earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $30,000 for a family of four. She also said the state would not participate in the creation of an insurance exchange, or online marketplace where people could shop for health insurance.

Both decisions were praised by tea party groups and conservative lawmakers who have railed against the federal health care law as an intrusion into state's rights.

Rep. Doug Cox, an emergency room physician from Grove, was one of the few Republicans in the Oklahoma Legislature to support the expansion. Cox said he hopes Fallin will reconsider her decision, as other Republican governors have in recent weeks, although he said he's not optimistic.

"One of the things that discourages me is when I hear people talk about the expansion of the Medicaid program ... as an entitlement program," Cox said. "To me, that conjures up giving something to people who are too lazy to work, giving something to deadbeats. The expansion of Medicaid is going to help good, hardworking Oklahomans. The people that it will help are those Oklahomans who work for minimum wage or a little bit above minimum wage, and they work for small companies that can't afford to provide health care insurance for their employees."

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