LAWTON, Okla. (TNN) - It’s a topic of discussion among health care advocates and Oklahoma state legislators, State Question 802. The proposal seeks to amend the state constitution concerning Medicaid.
When the Affordable Care Act was passed, Oklahoma was one of 14 states that chose not to expand Medicaid. That left a gap of about 200,000 uninsured Oklahomans, but State Question 802 aims to change that.
“We have citizens and organizations in the healthcare industry that suffer because of that," said Jay Johnson, President and CEO of Duncan Regional Hospital. "Back when the ACA was passed, and I think people lose sight of this, hospitals were cut from Medicare. Part of what that law was designed to do, was give us expanded Medicaid which would reduce the number of uninsured our hospitals take care of.”
A petition has formed to get SQ 802 on next year’s ballot. About 178,000 signatures are needed before October 28. Johnson says the lack of coverage among citizens is hurting hospitals, as well.
“Over 25% of people who come to the emergency room at Duncan Regional don’t pay us anything," Johnson said. "You’re looking at about 7,500 people a year that seek care for free in our emergency department.”
Johnson says as a result, seven hospitals closed and eight declared bankruptcy in the last 36 months in Oklahoma. Oklahoma Senator John Michael Montgomery says Governor Kevin Stitt is opposed to a complete expansion, but he’s working with legislators on a proposal that will suit everyone.
“What would be an approach we could consider that’s not straight up Medicaid expansion?," said Senator Montgomery. "It’ll probably have some bells and whistles, he’s probably interested in reforms. There are three state agencies that have to do with Medicaid. There is an active discussion around on reforms and that sort of thing.”
That proposal must come before the October deadline for signatures. The challenge, financing Medicaid expansion.
“The biggest challenge has been financing," said Sen. Montgomery. "It could have a $2 million price tag. You stack that with other issues like teacher pay. When it comes to healthcare and helping people out, we want to do as much as we can.”
The federal government is required to pay 90% of Medicaid expansion. When a state chooses to do that, it’s responsible for 10% of the bill. Johnson says there are options to cover that.
“There are already taxes being paid that can be re-purposed within state government that are designed for healthcare that can be used for that 10% match,” he said.
Senator Montgomery says the state is committed to finding a solution for the thousands of uninsured Oklahomans. And as an advocate for those citizens, Johnson says he’s proud to be involved in the process to get State Question 802 on the ballot.
“I think it’s great it’s fun to do something like this and believe we’re making a difference," said Johnson. "I think it’ll help our citizens and make Oklahoma a better place to live.”
If State Question 802 were to be put on the June or November 2020 ballot, it will go in the state constitution as opposed to the state statute which will keep lawmakers from making any further changes.