In June, voters in Oklahoma made a big leap forward together by voting yes to expand SoonerCare, the state’s Medicaid program. By a margin of only about 6,000, voters across the state made Oklahoma the 37th state to expand their Medicaid program with federal funding made available through the Affordable Care Act.
Under this expansion, adults earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level are eligible for enrollment in the program, a significant change that could allow around 200,000 people to access care. Currently, Oklahoma has the second-highest uninsured rate in the country at 14%, something that Medicaid expansion will help to address.
There are several other benefits to Medicaid expansion that we might see over the next years, beyond nire health coverage for Oklahomans. Hospitals, especially in less densely populated areas, will hopefully be protected from expansive budget cuts. Overall medical expenditures should decrease as patients are more able to access primary and preventative care. It’s also likely that more jobs will be created, and more tax dollars will stay in state.
The language used on the ballot in June enshrines Medicaid expansion in the Oklahoma state constitution, making it difficult for legislators and leaders like Gov. Stitt, whose own proposed version of an expansion plan was largely rejected, to dismantle the program. Like many other politicians who have opposed Medicaid expansion in their own states, Gov. Stitt’s criticism falls back on an argument that the program will cost the state too much money. Though with the support of federal funding and the potential for job creation and increased tax dollars coming back to the state, the possibility of a large revenue is much greater than that of a deficit.
Thoughtful implementation of the program relies on strong support in Oklahoma City where the rules for the program are written and funds appropriated. To ensure that this process is completed swiftly, with all Oklahomans in mind and multiple perspectives considered, November 2020’s general election will need to see victories for progressive-minded and thoughtful civic leaders across the state.