Once again, it seems, Oklahoma voters are going to be asked to decide on an issue the state Legislature lacks the will to tackle.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently cleared the way for an initiative petition that would allow voters to decide whether or not to expand Medicaid in the state.
This is an issue that has been languishing in the Legislature for years. The measure would bring nine federal dollars to Oklahoma for every dollar spent by the state to expand Medicaid coverage to include an estimated 200,000 Oklahomans — those who earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but not enough to afford coverage on the health insurance exchange. Those covered would be those making less than 133% of the federal poverty level, roughly $17,000 per year for individuals or $28,000 for a family of four.
Medicaid expansion wouldn’t only affect the unemployed and those on welfare, but also many farmers, ranchers and small business employees who have jobs that don’t come with health care benefits.
Some opponents say they fear the consequences should the state’s funding obligation increase in the future. Others object to the expansion because of its relation to the Affordable Care Act, so-called Obamacare, which has been a barrage balloon targeted by Republicans since it was enacted.
Expanding Medicaid makes sense. Oklahoma’s rural hospitals, in particular, are suffering because so many of their patients can’t afford the cost of medical care. Since 2016 eight hospitals in the state have declared bankruptcy and six have closed, according to the Oklahoma Hospital Association.
And it’s not just rural hospitals affected. Whenever uninsured patients can’t pay for even a portion of their care, those costs are passed on to those who do have insurance.
Proponents say expanding Medicaid would bring some $1 billion in federal dollars to the state. Bringing in nine federal dollars for every one spent by the state seems like a pretty advantageous ratio to us.
We don’t know where things will go from here, whether proponents will gather the nearly 178,000 signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot, or whether voters would then subsequently approve it.
We do know it is a shame the Legislature has once again passed the buck to the voters to decide an issue it doesn’t want to touch.