Thousands of Oklahomans lost their health care when they lost their jobs during this pandemic. Gov. Stitt recognized the enormity of their losses, then turned his back on them by vetoing a bill that would have brought much-needed health care to Oklahomans.
We find it darkly ironic that the Governor’s own statement supporting his veto calls out the urgent need for health care coverage for Oklahomans, yet uses that need as a reason to reject pursuing an appropriate remedy. Medicaid exists to support families during economic hardship. Far from “protecting taxpayers” as he stated with his veto, Gov. Stitt instead signed away access to needed health care for hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans, many of whom lost their health care coverage when they lost their jobs. By dismissing Medicaid expansion, Gov. Stitt also rejects the 9-to-1 federal match that would have pumped more than $1 billion into the Oklahoma economy every year.
As the Legislature gathers at the Capitol during the few remaining days of this session, we sincerely hope that lawmakers will put aside their differences to fund Medicaid expansion, which would get Oklahomans the health care they badly need.
Citing the effects of the pandemic and a declining energy market, the Governor on Thursday vetoed SB 1046, which served as the primary funding mechanism for his health care proposal.
SB 1046 provided the majority of funding for the first year of Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma. The measure was initially requested by Gov. Stitt as part of his SoonerCare 2.0 alternative Medicaid expansion proposal, which was expected to take effect on July 1.
Oklahoma has had the option to expand Medicaid since 2014. So far, 34 states have expanded Medicaid, which creates access to public health insurance for low-income working-age adults. Earlier estimates suggest that some 200,000 Oklahomans would enroll. Now, new estimates suggest an additional nearly 100,000 Oklahomans are now uninsured due to recent job loss. Of those newly unemployed Oklahomans, OK Policy calculates that 40,000 to 80,000 of them would be eligible for Medicaid expansion.
Before the pandemic hit, Oklahoma had the second-highest uninsured rate in the nation. Medicaid, which is the nation’s health insurance program for low-income people, provides health coverage to nearly 1 in 4 Oklahomans, the majority of whom are children. Working-age adults cannot enroll in Medicaid in Oklahoma currently unless they are very low-income parents or caretakers, or have certain severe disabilities.
On June 30, Oklahomans will have the opportunity to vote on whether to put Medicaid expansion in the state Constitution as part of SQ 802. The expansion authorized by State Question 802, if passed, likely would not take effect until the summer of 2021.