By Steve Metzer
The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma taxpayers might easily drown in debt if the state’s Medicaid program were to be thrown open to hundreds of thousands of new recipients, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs President Jonathan Small said Friday.
Flanked by OCPA attorney Travis Jett on the steps of the Oklahoma Judicial Center, Small met with reporters to explain the OCPA’s vehement opposition to Medicaid expansion and legal grounds for the council’s challenge of an initiative petition calling for a vote on the issue.
After passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, states were enticed to accept extra federal funding to pay the lion’s share of costs that would be associated with providing health care for more people through expanded Medicaid programs. Oklahoma has been among states that have consistently refused that funding. However, if enough people were to sign an initiative petition filed recently, it could force a state question about whether to expand the program onto ballots in an upcoming election.
“If Medicaid expansion is going to be on the ballot, the most vulnerable in Oklahoma and voters deserve to know the truth of what they’ll be voting on,” Small said. “This petition will cause, according to the Medicaid agency’s own numbers, 628,000 able-bodied adults to have the guaranteed right of welfare over that of the aged, blind, disabled, pregnant women, and children who currently rely on Medicaid.”
If Oklahoma taxpayers have to pay for just 10% of the average Medicaid costs of 628,000 people, the annual bill would be $374 million, Small said. The tragic end result, he insisted, would be that so much of the state’s money would be soaked up by those new recipients that those who truly need help would be left even more vulnerable.
“This would put (Medicaid expansion) in Oklahoma’s constitution, subverting the appropriations authority of the Legislature and making it a constitutional right for able-bodied adults to have guaranteed welfare,” he said. “This is unlike anything else going on in the country as it relates to Medicaid.”
Jett said the OCPA’s challenge of the initiative petition is based on two grounds, the first being that the petition would unconstitutionally delegate legislative authority away from Oklahoma and give it to the federal government. The proposal would give federal bureaucrats and Congress power to control eligibility for Oklahoma’s Medicaid program and the costs to be paid by Oklahoma taxpayers.
The other reason for the challenge, Jett said, is that federal law currently dictates that if Medicaid is expanded the program must accept people with incomes at 138% of the federal poverty level or less. The petition calls for a state question to decide if the program should be expanded to include people with income at 133% of the FPL or less. The inconsistency with federal law would not be allowed, he said. Further, that 5% difference would potentially equate to thousands of people and millions of dollars, he pointed out.
Jett said the challenge was filed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court in accordance with procedure set by the Legislature. The court will set a date for a hearing on the matter and then rule on whether the petition meets requirements to proceed.
Attorneys with the Oklahoma City firm of Crowe & Dunlevy filed the initiative petition on May 3. Oklahoma Secretary of State Michael Rogers’ office identified it as State Question 802. Since it would make a change to the Oklahoma Constitution, it would require 177,958 signatures to make it to a ballot. Signature collection would extend for 90 days after any challenges are resolved.
A representative of Crowe & Dunlevy didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
According to the OCPA, states that have opted to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid have had to pay much higher costs than anticipated. In all, Obamacare expansion has cost taxpayers 157% more than expected. Even in Oklahoma, which has not embraced Obamacare, Medicaid enrollment has risen 132% since 1997 while the state’s population has increased by only 17%. During that same time, Oklahoma’s annual share of Medicaid costs has increased by 329%, the OCPA said.
“This initiative petition has fatal constitutional flaws and fails to inform citizens about the real details of this massive welfare expansion,” Small said. “These flaws are so severe, the petition should not be allowed to proceed.”